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Old December 26, 2013, 05:08 PM   #1
Spats McGee
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Estate of Arrington v. Michael, 3rd Circuit, 13-1042

This one doesn't fall into the "Second Amendment Rights" category so much as it does "General Gun Laws," so don't look to it for guidance on expanding our 2A rights. However, TFL's mission is to foster responsible gun ownership. On that issue, I find this interesting. I see a lot of folks saying that "all responsible gun owners should secure their guns." Well, apparently, the federal government thought so, too, because they provided statutory immunity from lawsuits stemming from unauthorized use of a firearm, if the owner secures his or her firearms using "secure gun storage." I think I tend to forget this because I'm unaware of any other cases dealing with 18 U.S.C.A. § 922(z)(3). So, without further ado, here's the section:
Quote:
(3) Liability for use.--

(A) In general.--Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person who has lawful possession and control of a handgun, and who uses a secure gun storage or safety device with the handgun, shall be entitled to immunity from a qualified civil liability action.

(B) Prospective actions.--A qualified civil liability action may not be brought in any Federal or State court.

(C) Defined term.--As used in this paragraph, the term “qualified civil liability action”--
(i) means a civil action brought by any person against a person described in subparagraph (A) for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of the handgun by a third party, if--
(I) the handgun was accessed by another person who did not have the permission or authorization of the person having lawful possession and control of the handgun to have access to it; and

(II) at the time access was gained by the person not so authorized, the handgun had been made inoperable by use of a secure gun storage or safety device; and
(ii) shall not include an action brought against the person having lawful possession and control of the handgun for negligent entrustment or negligence per se.
18 U.S.C.A. § 922 (West)
Naturally, one of my first questions is how "secure gun storage" is defined. Well, we have a definition of that:
Quote:
(34) The term “secure gun storage or safety device” means--

(A) a device that, when installed on a firearm, is designed to prevent the firearm from being operated without first deactivating the device;

(B) a device incorporated into the design of the firearm that is designed to prevent the operation of the firearm by anyone not having access to the device; or

(C) a safe, gun safe, gun case, lock box, or other device that is designed to be or can be used to store a firearm and that is designed to be unlocked only by means of a key, a combination, or other similar means.

18 U.S.C.A. § 921 (West)
The background tale goes something like this: Defendant John Michael was (or perhaps is) a police officer for the City of Chester, Pennsylvania. His son, Aaron, had been in a relationship with Yvonne Arrington. According to the Third Circuit, Aaron had quite the criminal history, including a history of abusing Arrington. In preparing to go on vacation, Defendant John Michael left his service weapon at home: (1) locked with a gun lock; (2) inside a locked bedroom; and (3) separated from both ammuntion and magazines. Aaron Michael later broke down the bedroom door, searched the room until he found the key to the gun lock, and the magazines and ammunition, unlocked the gun lock, then turned to an internet search for information on how to load and operate the pistol. (Though I may not have the order of events quite right.) Aaron then found Arrington and shot her 8 times.

Aarington's estate brought the action under 42 USC § 1983, alleging a deprivation of substantive due process rights to bodily integrity, and John Michael raised both qualified and statutory immunity under 18 U.S.C.A. § 922(z)(3) as defenses. The Third Circuit found that he was entitled to the 922(z)(3) immunity and therefore did not need to address qualified immunity.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Third Circuit
In this case, the interpretation of the statute is not a “factual dispute” that requires jury deliberation, but rather a pure question of law. Forsyth, 472 U.S. at 528. By its terms, the CSLA provides that, as long as an individual with lawful control of a gun has utilized a secure gun storage or safety device and has not authorized or permitted access to the gun, he or she is immune from suit in any “qualified civil liability action.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(z)(3)(A). A qualified civil liability action is defined, with limited exceptions not relevant here, as a suit “for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of the handgun by a third party” when there was unauthorized access to the handgun and “the handgun had been made inoperable by use of a secure gun storage or safety device.” Id. § 922(z)(3)(C). The present fact pattern is plainly within that definition. The access gained by Aaron was clearly unauthorized. Moreover, the meaning of the word “inoperable” is clear. It refers to the use of a secure gun storage or safety device to prevent a gun from firing, the pertinent language being “inoperable by use of a secure gun storage or safety device.” Id. § 922(z)(3)(C)(i)(II) (emphasis added). In other words, an individual is immune from suit if the handgun was rendered unusable because of a gun storage or safety device.

Estate of Arrington v. Michael, 13-1042, 2013 WL 6768203 (3d Cir. Dec. 24, 2013)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Third Circuit
While the statute abrogates immunity when a gun owner negligently entrusts a gun or acts with negligence per se, id. § 922(z)(3)(C)(ii), the Estate never expressly argues that Michael acted with such negligence. But even if it had, nothing in the record suggests that Michael's conduct with respect to his handgun was negligent, let alone that it rose to the level of negligence that would cause him to lose the statutory grant of immunity. On the contrary, Michael took reasonable precautions to ensure that nobody—including Aaron—would have access to his gun. Given the significant care that Michael had taken to secure the weapon, the present § 1983 action appears to be exactly the kind of case that Congress wanted to prevent when it passed the CSLA. While there may exist circumstances that give rise to a claim of negligent entrustment or negligence per se, or where the use of a gun lock or safety device does not render a gun inoperable, those are not questions we need now consider. The facts of this case establish that Michael's conduct is fully protected by the CSLA and he is immune from suit.

Estate of Arrington v. Michael, 13-1042, 2013 WL 6768203 (3d Cir. Dec. 24, 2013)
I can't post the whole decision right now, but it should make for interesting reading when we get ahold of it.
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Last edited by Spats McGee; December 27, 2013 at 07:17 AM.
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Old December 26, 2013, 06:41 PM   #2
KyJim
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Good post. I guess I never realized the federal qualified immunity was contingent upon securing the firearm.
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Old December 26, 2013, 07:12 PM   #3
Spats McGee
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It's not. Federal qualified immunity is essentially a derivative immunity based on sovereign immunity, following a line of cases including Saucier v. Katz and Monell v. Dept. of Human Services. Under qualified immunity, even if a constitutional violation occurs, the officer may be immune from suit, provided that the violation was not a violation of a well established, or bright line constitutional contour. QI is available to government actors, acting under color of law.

The immunity examined here is one straight out of 18 USC 922, and not contingent on the identity of the alleged tortfeasor as a government actor, nor the color of law aspect.

The Plaintiff brought the action under s1983 in an attempt to reach the city's pocketbook. That's why the defendant pled qualified immunity in addition to the statutory immunity.
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Old December 26, 2013, 10:01 PM   #4
Al Norris
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The decision is here: Estate of Andrea Y Arrington v. John Michael

The decision is a published precedential decision.
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Old December 27, 2013, 07:18 AM   #5
Spats McGee
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Thanks, Al.
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If you ever have a real need for more than a couple of magazines, your problem is not a shortage of magazines. It's a shortage of people on your side of the argument. -- Art Eatman
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Old December 27, 2013, 11:58 AM   #6
Aguila Blanca
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Very interesting discussion. Apparently the appeals court took the novel view that words have meaning, so where something is defined within a law itself we DON'T get to make up our own definitions or seek out a definition that suits our argument.
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Old December 27, 2013, 01:56 PM   #7
JimDandy
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Hey Spats, I realize this could be as simple as "because they wanted to deal with handguns" but why does this legislation not exempt people who store long guns in a similar manner?

Is there some multiple-hoop-jumping-through for definitions in this section of that section for a yet a third section that says for the purposes of trigger locks all long guns are hand guns becasue they're hand operated or man-portable or something?

In other words, it feels kind of squirrely, that for all "We're not going after hunters" preamble in a lot of gun control legislation- which this arguably isn't-, that long guns aren't getting the same qualified immunity.

You mentioned this wasn't an opportunity to expand gun rights, but if I read this right, I think there is an opening. Amend it to replace handgun with firearm. The pro-gun people will love to give statutory immunity to proper storage, and the pro-control people can't afford to straddle that fence after spending all year talking about not going after hunters. The trick is finding enough Reps who think it's important enough to spend time on it.
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Old December 27, 2013, 02:35 PM   #8
Spats McGee
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JimDandy
Hey Spats, I realize this could be as simple as "because they wanted to deal with handguns" but why does this legislation not exempt people who store long guns in a similar manner?
I'm afraid that I just don't have the answer to that one, nor the time to find the answer, to that one. You'd have to go back to the legislative record and dig out the findings.
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If you ever have a real need for more than a couple of magazines, your problem is not a shortage of magazines. It's a shortage of people on your side of the argument. -- Art Eatman
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Old December 28, 2013, 12:32 AM   #9
KyJim
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Quote:
why does this legislation not exempt people who store long guns in a similar manner?
Just a guess but, at the time of the statute, the big focus of the anti-gun crowd was the handgun. The statue was passed in response. They could have just referred to firearms but . . .
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