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Lawsuit Against Online Gun Seller Can Continue, Court Rules

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on April 23, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's no denying the national debate on gun control has reached a fever pitch in recent months, with more shootings and the media attention that follows. The questions that always arise after these shootings include: How did this person get a gun? Was it obtained legally? Should we change the law to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future?

After a tragic incident in Wisconsin claimed four lives, investigators learned that the shooter had purchased his gun online. Now, the daughter of one of his victims is suing that website over her mother's murder. And although one court dismissed the case, an appeals court has ruled that the lawsuit against the online gun seller can continue.

A History of Domestic Violence and an Online Gun Purchase

In October of 2012, Radcliffe Haughton opened fire at a Milwaukee-area spa, killing four people, including his estranged wife, Zina Daniel Haughton and himself. But with a history of domestic violence and a restraining order granted just days before the shooting, Haughton was not supposed to have any firearms, according to federal law.

However, Wisconsin law only requires background checks and a 48-hour waiting period for dealer purchases, not private sales. That appears to be why Haughton went online and bought a handgun from a private seller through the website

Lawsuit: Website Facilitated Illegal Gun Purchases

The lawsuit against the online gun seller was filed by the gunman's stepdaughter, Yasmeen Daniel, and claims that the website design encouraged and facilitated the illegal gun sale and lacked appropriate safeguards. The gunman found the private seller through Armslist, and communicated with him through the website. The actual purchase occurred in a fast food parking lot.

The circuit court had dismissed the case, saying that the website couldn't be held liable for publishing third-party content. However, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit, ruling that it seeks liability for using a "website design feature to facilitate illegal firearms purchases," which is not protected by state or federal law.

Gun violence affects a lot more people than just those in the stories that make the news. If you've been hurt or threatened by someone with a gun or other weapon, you should report the incident to law enforcement. After that, speak to an attorney about additional steps you can take for your protection and to seek compensation.

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