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Lawsuit prevention: Gun owner immunity needed

If the state Senate and the governor follow the House's unexpected lead, Granite State gun owners will not be victimized by frivolous lawsuits as Lawrence Secord of Maine was last year.

Readers might remember the terrible murders of James Walker, 34, of Denmark, Maine, William Jones, 25, of Walpole, Mass., and Gary Jones, 23, of Halifax, Mass., on July 2, 2007. Michael Woodbury walked into the Army Barracks store in Conway with the intention of robbing it. In the process he killed Walker, the store manager, and the two Joneses (unrelated), a pair of buddies who had been hiking and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Woodbury admitted to the murders and was sentenced to life in prison. Gail Jones of Halifax, Mass., mother of Gary Jones, later sued Woodbury's grandfather, Lawrence Secord, in an attempt to hold him responsible for her son's killing.

Woodbury had stolen Secord's .22 caliber pistol from his Wentworth's Location hunting cabin before going on a multi-state crime spree that ended in the Conway murders. Gail Jones claimed Secord negligently stored his gun, which resulted in her son's death. Secord had left the gun unloaded in a locked cabin.

The first tip that this was a frivolous lawsuit came from Jones herself. "That is where I've taken this, not out of retaliation because it's not that," the Associated Press quoted her as saying. Her goal, she said, was that "maybe something else can become of it, and in this instance, just maybe trying to stiffen up the gun laws in New Hampshire or putting some responsibility on a homeowner that owns guns."

She added, "What we're trying to do in New Hampshire is to just get the word out there that if you are a gun owner, you need to be responsible, you need to take precautions."

Dragging an innocent man through federal court is no way to send a public service message, or to advocate for policy changes. Though court precedents had established that Jones had no case, there was no law to make that clear and effectively prevent the lawsuit in the first place. With no immunity law on the books, she and her lawyers saw the chance to sway a judge, and they took it.

On Wednesday the New Hampshire House voted 212-151 to prevent similar abuses of the court system in the future. House Bill 388, on its way to the Senate, would grant gun owners immunity from civil liability if their guns are stolen and later used in crimes. This is not a law that the state should need to pass. Unfortunately, it needs to.

Eric Church
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