Monday, March 05, 2012

PLCAA On Trial In The Alaska Supreme Court As Brady Center Gun-Grabbers Seek To Use The Ray Coxe Case In Juneau To Weaken Gun Rights

The Alaska Supreme Court is currently weighing a challenge to PLCAA (Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act), and while arguments have been heard, a decision is not expected to be forthcoming right away. If they decide in favor of the plaintiff, the plaintiff could sue a Juneau gun dealer for negligence and for illegally selling the gun to a killer, despite the fact that the PLCAA was passed to prevent firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for crimes committed with their products. The most current story is published by the Juneau Empire, but an earlier story by KTOO 104.3 provides additional information and is more compactly written. Nationally, the Atlantic has just published a detailed, balanced, and well-written piece on the entire case; I strongly recommend reading it.

How It Started: On August 2nd, 2006, Jason Coday walked into Rayco Sales in Juneau to buy a .22 caliber rifle. The owner, Ray Coxe, showed Coday a Ruger, and quoted a price of $195. Coday feigned disinterest, picked up his backpack, and appeared to leave the store, while Coxe became distracted. Taking advantage of the distraction, Coday did an about-face, took the Ruger, and left two $100 bills behind. Two days later, Coday murdered Simone Young Kim with the Ruger. Because Coday just took the Ruger and left the store, no Form 4473 was filled out, and no background check was completed; in addition, as a registered felon in Nevada, Coday was not entitled to buy a gun. In May 2007, Coday received 99 years in prison for Kim's death, and an additional two years for weapons misconduct, for sawing off the end of the murder weapon; he will not be eligible for parole until 2046.

The Brady Center Gets Involved: Despite its propaganda, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence wants to eliminate private ownership of firearms. But their strategy is to incrementally strip away gun rights one layer at a time, endlessly playing the safety card to scare people, so that the people remain blind to their ultimate goal. So when the Brady Center heard about this case, they saw an opportunity to weaken or overturn PLCAA. They convinced the family of Simone Young Kim to sue Coxe. On July 31st, 2008, the Kim family, represented by the Brady Center, filed a civil lawsuit against Coxe seeking damages for $100,000 for the wrongful death of Kim, alleging that Coxe knowingly violating gun laws by illegally selling the gun to the killer, Jason Coday, and also for negligence. Coday was originally included in the suit, but defaulted out. In January 2010, Ray Coxe's first petition for summary judgment (dismissal) denied (see page 10 of this Brady Center report).

After additional discovery, Coxe filed for summary judgment once again, this time under the PLCAA shield. Because of PLCAA, the judge decided that the Kim family’s claim of an illegal sale was based on “unsupported assumptions and speculation”, and that it could not overcome Coxe’s sworn testimony. Thus the judge granted a summary judgment in October 2010, dismissing the case without it going to a jury. However, this did not deter to Brady Center, which decided to elevate the case to the Alaska Supreme Court in April 2011. Their objective is for the Alaska Supreme Court to decide that the Kim lawsuit has standing, and to return the case to the original court to be heard.

Arguments in favor of Kim's lawsuit: Negligence, including inadequate security measures, a store employee leaving a customer alone with a weapon, no background check, no firearms transaction record, and a malfunctioning video surveillance system. Plaintiff co-counsels Jonathan Lowy and Mark Choate also speculate that Coxe sells guns off the books then later claims that they are missing, because a previous audit of Rayco Sales found 200 guns missing from the inventory. Lowy also argues the PLCAA violates the Tenth Amendment.

Arguments against Kim's lawsuit: Co-counsels Tony Sholty and Lael Harrison represent Ray Coxe. Sholty says the rifle was simply taken or stolen, not purchased or sold. He says without additional supportive facts, it would be only speculation or conjecture to say that it was purchased. Lael Harrison argues that Congress intended for the PLCAA to bar Kims’ general negligence claim. And during the Supreme Court hearing, Ben Kingsley of the U.S. Department of Justice testified that PLCAA does not violate the Tenth Amendment, noting that under the supremacy clause, Congress can pre-empt state law and change the substantive law as it applies to the individual citizens of a state. He added that PLCAA's constitutionality on that and other claims have already been upheld in most other jurisdictions.

Deep Pockets: A commenter to the Juneau Empire raises this issue. Glacierdogs noted that Ray Coxe owns a building that CBJ (City and Borough of Juneau) says is worth over $1 million, and that may be what the attorneys see as worthwhile for them. He added that Coxe had immediately reported the gun stolen, and opined that is all that Coxe was required to do. In an earlier comment, Glacierdogs also noted that Juneau Police showed little interest in the theft until the gun was used in a murder.

KTOO notes that the justices took all of the arguments under advisement. Typically, justices take as much as nine months to draft and circulate an opinion amongst themselves before it is released. This means that although Ray Coxe's life has been on hold for six months while the Damoclean sword of litigation hangs over his livelihood, he could have to wait another nine months for the outcome.

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