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Common questions, dangerous answers.

The person behind the counter at the gunshop is the customer's "resident expert" on what to do with the gun he or she just bought for personal protection. This engenders a lot of questions.

It also, in some environments, engenders some dangerously stupid answers. I believe it was weapons expert Ken Hackathorn who coined the term "Gunshop Commando" to describe the fellow who gave advice so bad it was threatening. As Jeff Cooper has noted, "There are a lot of people teaching things they haven't learned yet."

Let's look at just a few of the answers that can get the customer in trouble, and the dealer right along with him.

"Frankly, the grip safety and firing pin lock and magazine disconnector safety are just BS. As soon as you get the gun home, deactivate that useless safety. I'll show you how."

Great. Your employee, acting on your behalf, just advised the customer to deactivate the safety mechanism on the firearm. Even if you get a spirit medium to conjure the ghost of John Browning to appear in court and say, "Frankly, I thought the grip safety was BS myself, but the Cavalry insisted on it for their 1911 pistol," all the average layman on the jury will remember is that the defendant disconnected a safety device on a deadly weapon. Hmmm ... does that sound like the "reckless, wanton disregard for human life" the other side's lawyer keeps talking about?

And that guy at the gunshop told the defendant to do it?!? Ho ho! In his guide to suing over firearms tragedies, anti-gun lawyer Windle Turley advises that the suit go all the way up and name as defendants not merely the person who fired, but the seller of the gun and manufacturer. It's called vicarious liability. If the jury believes the shooting was reckless, the dealer whose clerk gave that advice now shares the liability.

"... And if the bad guy you shot turned out not to have a weapon, why, just drag him aside and put a kitchen knife in his hand before you call the police." Hmmm ... speaking as a prosecutor, what can I get you for on that? Let's see. You conspired with the person who ultimately followed your advice to commit obstruction of justice, for starters.

But that's only a start. You made it clear that this was a story the poor dumb customer should stick to under oath. You have now committed the crime, usually about a class IV felony, of subornation of perjury, that is, you have told someone to lie under oath. You've just given advice so horrible that you can go to prison just for saying it. For the benighted customer who took that advice, it gets a whole lot worse. The altering of evidence and lying under oath have now given the prosecutor the core of charges that range from manslaughter to murder.

If the customer reasonably believed his life was in danger when he or she fired, that reasonable belief under the circumstance is all the law requires to make it a clean shooting. Congratulations: your clerk's advice not only poisoned that, but put him (and you, as his employer) in the trickbag along with the person who pulled the trigger.

"That thing on the slide of the semiautomatic pistol I just sold you is a decocking lever, not a safety, no matter what it says in the owner's manual. Always keep it off safe, like the real professionals do." Great move. Your salesman just told the customer not to use a safety device that existed on the gun.

This is sort of like you were a car dealer and told the buyer not to wear the seat belt because he'd be too slow and stupid to release it if he got stuck in the car. The customer now goes through the windshield and dies. Where does that leave the auto dealership whose salesman gave that incredibly stupid advice?

About the same place it leaves the gun dealer whose clerk told the customer to ignore a safety device that was put on the gun by both the designer and the manufacturer for a very good reason. Your agent, whose expertise the gun owner had a right to rely on, told him not to use a safety mechanism that could have prevented the tragedy in question.

Did a child get a hold of the gun and pull the trigger, with nightmarish consequences? Did a bad guy rip the gun out of the legitimate owner's hand, convulsively pull the trigger, and paralyze the owner for life? Did the gun go off when something caught the trigger as it was being shoved into the holster?

Pick any of those scenarios. It doesn't matter. In none of the above would the gun have gone off if the lever had been in the on-safe position, and the damages would not have been suffered. However, that physical and psychological damage was suffered because your clerk told the customer to disengage a safety mechanism on a lethal weapon. The damage was caused, and now the damages are sustained. By you, and what used to be your solvent company.

By all means, share with the customer the arguments of "safety" versus "decock lever" to the point where they can make a rational choice. Show them how to quickly pop the lever from "safe" to "fire"; running the thumb toward the front sight brings the slide-mounted safety into the up position. But remember that when you tell someone to carry off safe, and the gun fires when it wouldn't have fired if it had been on safe, plaintiff's counsel has the kind of case that lets him afford to send his kids to law school.

"Naw, you don't need no gun safety books or manuals or nothin'. Why, workin' one of these babies is just common sense." Ask the dealer who has already been successfully sued for selling a gun without an operating manual or training material on firearms safety, just how much this cost him in court. If you look around, you shouldn't have a hard time finding a dealer who can tell you from bitter experience. That is, if he's still in business.

Be sure every new gun you sell has an owner's manual in it. Maintain a library of owner's manuals, or at least the excellent Digest Book series on weapons assembly/disassembly, and if necessary make photocopies for every used gun you sell. Include NRA and NSSF gun safety handouts. They cost pennies. Document that this was done. Yes, it's another couple of bucks of operating costs. Factor that against $100,000 in legal fees when the first bozo shoots himself in the foot with the gun he bought at your store, and swears that you recklessly endangered his life by furnishing him with a deadly weapon but no knowledge of how to use it.

You may not like the sound of this any more than I do, but it's better to hear it from me now than from plaintiff's counsel later. These are lessons I've learned in the arena of the courts, and in coming issues, we'll share more of them.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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