Proposed bill would make gun owners civilly liable if a gun they lend out is used in a crime

Dec 20, 2018, 3:05 PM

A proposed bill called “Lauren’s Law” would make gun owners civilly liable if they lend a firearm to someone who uses it to commit a crime.

The bill, proposed by Rep.-elect Andrew Stoddard, comes in the wake of the death of Lauren McCluskey, the University of Utah student who was murdered on Oct. 22. McCluskey’s accused killer, Melvin Rowland, was a convicted sex offender on parole, but was able to get ahold of a gun by borrowing it from a friend.

Stoddard says his bill would make it easier than ever for the families of victims to sue anyone who lends out a gun put to criminal use, regardless of whether they can prove their knowledge of how the gun was going to be used.

Andrew Stoddard explains Lauren’s Law

Andrew Stoddard

Rep.-elect Andrew Stoddard is championing Lauren’s Law, which would make anyone who lends a gun used in a crime civilly liable, regardless of intent. (Photo: Utah Democratic Party)

The proposed bill, Stoddard says, was specifically made with Lauren McCluskey in mind.

“That’s why we’re calling it Lauren’s Law, because that’s what inspired it,” Stoddard said in an interview with KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic. “Someone loaned that man a gun and he used it to do something terrible with it.”

In fact, Stoddard first proposed his bill by responding to a tweet from Jill McCluskey, Lauren’s mother, calling for Rowland’s friend to be prosecuted for lending him the gun:

Under Utah’s current laws, it’s unlikely that Jill McCluskey will get her wish. Utah law prohibits gun owners from knowingly giving a gun to someone who is not permitted to carry one or to someone who is planning to use it to commit a crime, but it requires lenders be aware of those criminal intentions before they can be convicted.

Rowland’s friend has said that he believed Rowland was only going to use the gun for shooting lessons. Since there is no proof he had any knowledge of his violent intentions, campus police have said it’s unlikely that he will be charged.

If Lauren’s Law passes, however, the mere act of lending a gun would become enough to prove culpability in a civil court.

As Stoddard explained it: “If I give a gun to my friend and that person goes and does something bad with it, I would be held responsible for it.”

Technically, Stoddard admitted, current laws don’t make it impossible for the McCluskey family to sue Rowland’s friend in civil court.

“Essentially, the way the law is set up now, you can sue anyone civilly for any reason,” Stoddard admitted. He says that his bill, however, “makes it a little easier.”

The details on the bill are sparse. The bill is still being prepared, and Stoddard says that he wants to talk to “people on all sides of the issue” before putting it forward.

We do know, however, that the bill would only affect civil courts. “I’m not addressing criminal liability at the moment,” Stoddard said. “Maybe that’s a conversation to have down the road.”

Clark Aposhian responds to the bill

Clark Aposhian

File photo of Utah Shooting Sports Council chairman, pictured demonstrating how a bump stock works when attached to a semiautomatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range Oct. 4, 2017, in South Jordan. (Photo: Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

Stoddard believes that his bill will have support from both sides of the aisle.

“I think it’s a pretty common-sense bill,” he told Dave & Dujanovic. “Even guns rights activists. I think they want to show people that they are responsible.”

Not everybody listening to the show, however, was convinced. Listeners texted and called in with their reactions, and while some agreed with Stoddard that we should “stiffen” gun laws, others were less than thrilled with Stoddard’s proposal.

One listener said that Lauren’s Law gives him “heartburn that I might get punished for something someone else did,” while another just outright called the bill: “stupid, stupid, stupid.”

To get another side to the issue, KSL Newsradio invited a gun rights activist, Utah Shooting Sports Council chairman Clark Aposhian, to come on the show and share his perspective on Stoddard’s bill. Despite Stoddard’s prediction, Aposhian wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

Lauren’s Law, he suggested, was nothing more than an attempt to crucify someone else in Rowland’s place. “We want to balance the universe, so to speak,” Aposhian told Dave & Dujanovic. “In Lauren’s case, we don’t have that person there to prosecute because they killed themselves. And so, in this case, we’re going to use a stand-in.”

Stoddard himself painted his goals with the bill in a different light, telling Dave and Dujanovic: “What I hope the bill does is it makes them think twice before they do something with their gun or give it to someone.”

But gun owners, Aposhian argued, don’t take lending their weapons as lightly as Stoddard’s statements suggests.

“We already are thinking twice, thinking three times before we do something like that.”

The laws currently in place, Aposhian believes, are already strict enough.

“Under federal law, if you … have reason to believe that the person is prohibited from possessing a gun or is going to commit a crime, you’re guilty of a crime right there by transferring a firearm,” Aposhian said.

Despite his objections, however, Aposhian said that he wasn’t going to lobby against the bill until it’s ready. Before he protests against it, he said, he wants to be able to see what it actually says.

Stoddard plans on putting his bill forward in the 2019 Utah legislative session.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Proposed bill would make gun owners civilly liable if a gun they lend out is used in a crime