*editor's note* this is part of the first draft of an article I hope to publish, but I believe that it has languished long enough. The message needs to get out there and the names of Cara McGrane and Tim Burnett should never be forgotten.
Can failure to exercise reasonable care in the storage of a
firearm that is subsequently stolen and used to commit a crime amount to a
cause of action? Is market share liability a valid cause of action against gun
manufacturers and sellers?
a late November day in 1992, an eighteen year old kid named Joe White walked
into the Drake Diner, a popular eating spot near the campus of Drake University
in Des Moines, Iowa. Producing an impossibly large handgun,
Joe ordered the manager, Cara McGrane, to hand over all the money she had. In
front of numerous horrified patrons, he then shot McGrane once in the head,
killing her instantly. Tim Burnett, then decorating a Christmas tree ran out on
hearing the report of the pistol, and he himself was shot once and died
instantly. Joe White left the Drake Diner and vanished in the early winter dusk
with something less than $1,500 in hand.
operatives soon determined that the two spent cartridge cases found at the
Drake Diner were unique. They were .44 Magnum cartridges, a rimmed pistol
cartridge developed by Smith and Wesson in the 1950s for use in their Model 29
revolver. But these cartridge cases had been fired from an automatic pistol.
Some research revealed that semi-automatic pistols that can fire revolver
rounds are rarities in the world of pistols, being low production firearms
whose appeal is primarily to civilian gun enthusiasts. One such pistol is the
LAR Grizzly, which is loosely modeled after the Colt M1911 service pistol.
the LAR Grizzly pistol was very low production, police started contacting owners
and soon learned that one had been stolen from a Fall City, Washington man
named Roger Cline, who, being a handloader, had spent cartridge cases fired
from the pistol. His daughter had had a relationship with Joe White when Joe
was living in Washington shortly before he
moved to Des Moines, Iowa. He’d been at the Cline home on a
weekend when their 16 year old daughter was there but the parents were
away. A spent cartridge case retrieved
from the roof of the Washington apartment
house Joe lived in matched the murder weapon, as did spent cartridge cases from
the alley behind Joe White’s apartment in Des
Moines and spent cartridges provided to police by
was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment without the
possibility of parole for the murders of McGrane and Burnett. His appeal was
heard in 1994 and he is confined to prison for the foreseeable future, or at
least until decomposition sets in.
estate of Cara McGrane filed suit against Roger Cline and his wife, alleging
that the Clines were liable under theories of vicarious liability and a duty to
the general public to adequately secure a firearm. It was alleged that either
Joe White had stolen the pistol and jewelry from the home or that the Cline’s
daughter gave the weapon to Joe White.
the weekend the weapon disappeared, it was left in the parents’ bedroom
The Superior Court of King County, Washington granted the Cline’s motion for
summary judgment and McGrane appealed.
The Washington Court of Appeals held that the theft of the LAR Grizzly did not
occur under circumstances that might alert a reasonable firearm owner that
unauthorized entry and theft were likely or foreseeable.
The McGrane estate took nothing for its trouble.