Three families of victims slain in a mass shooting incident are suing Walmart, claiming that the retailer behaved negligently when selling ammunition to a customer who was both underaged and intoxicated. Pennsylvania law requires ammunitions and handguns to only be sold to customers who are over the age of 21, though 18 year olds can buy rifles and rifle ammo under a hunters exception to the law.
The 51-page lawsuit alleges that a Walmart employee’s early morning decision to sell handgun ammunition to a visibly intoxicated 20-year-old was an inexorable link in a chain of events that culminated in the shooting death of three people.
The suit claim that the employee made the sale “without conduct[ing] any basic questioning” to see if [the defendant] was at least 21 years old “as required by law,” according to the lawsuit.
Within an hour of the transaction, the family says the bullets became evidence in an crime spree that took the lives of three people on the streets of nearby Easton and Allentown, Pennsylvania, with each one dying of “multiple gunshot wounds.”
The deaths added to a growing list of such fatalities in 2015, a year so marred with gun violence that it sparked national debates and on Tuesday inspired President Barack Obama to issue an executive order expanding the background check process for gun buyers and tightening restrictions for firearm dealers.
“[The defendants] knew or should have known that [the defendant] intended or was likely to use the bullets to kill other persons or to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others and the general public,” the lawsuit says.
The chain’s national media relations director Randy Hargrove noted in a telephone interview with Courthouse News that the transaction unfolded differently than the lawsuit claims, maintaining that store registers have a prompt requiring cashiers to verify a customer’s age in order to conduct a handgun-related sale.
He further noted the bullets purchased could have been used in either a rifle or a handgun – and rifle ammunition can be sold to anyone over the age of 18.
“We will review the complaint and intend to defend the company against this litigation,” Hargrove wrote in a follow-up email.