Each year, convicted felons get thousands of weapons from licensed gun dealers. They skirt the mandatory background checks by having people who do qualify fill out the paperwork for them. NPR reports that the settlement of a lawsuit over a murder-suicide in Kansas has made it easier to sue gun dealers who allow these “straw purchases” with a wink and a nod. Twelve years ago, Elizabeth Shirley was living in southeastern Kansas, estranged from her abusive husband Russell Graham. She took her 8-year-old son Zeus for a court-ordered visit with his dad. She didn’t know that Graham, a convicted felon, had just bought a shotgun, with help from his grandmother.
“The owner of the store asked Russell if he had been a good boy, and Russell said ‘No, that’s why we’re gonna put it in her name.’ And they continued on with the sale,” Shirley says. The owners of Baxter Gun and Pawn say they didn’t know Graham was a felon. They believed the grandmother was buying the gun as a gift for young Zeus. She filled out the form and passed the mandatory federal background check, as Graham waited. “He paid cash for the gun, he carried out the gun, and he purchased the ammo,” Shirley says. Hours later, he used it to kill the boy, and himself. She filed a negligence suit against the gun shop, and the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that gun dealers must exercise the “highest standard of reasonable care” to keep weapons away from felons. That’s a higher standard than had been in place. Shirley settled with the gun shop owners for $132,000.