In a case attorneys say has no precedent in New Hampshire, a federal appeals court is weighing whether the owner of a handgun used to kill three people at a Conway military surplus shop in July 2007 could be held liable for their murders.
Lawrence Secord didn’t do enough to secure the .22-caliber handgun he kept at his camp in Wentworth Location, enabling his grandson, Michael Woodbury, to steal it and open fire in the Army Barracks store several days later, according to a lawsuit brought by the mother of one of the victims.
A federal judge decided Secord didn’t have a duty to store his gun in a different manner, citing the circumstances of the case – that Woodbury had broken into Secord’s cabin – and a New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling that individuals ordinarily can’t be held liable for crimes committed by others.
Attorneys for the victim’s mother disagreed with the decision and took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which recently heard the appeal.
The court won’t decide whether Secord stored the gun safely – only if he had a duty to, said Roberto Tepichin, a Boston attorney representing Gail Jones, whose 23-year-old son, Gary, was killed by Woodbury.
The case represents the first time a court has addressed whether gun owners have a duty to store firearms in a safe manner in New Hampshire, Tepichin said.
“What’s at stake here are potentially many lives,” Tepichin said in a phone interview last week. “The rule we’re advocating for is a pretty commonsense one, that you should store firearms safely.”
Secord didn’t do that, he said. “If he just locked the guns up in a safe, Mr. Woodbury could not have gotten a hold of them, and we wouldn’t be here today,” Tepichin said.
A felon with a history of armed robbery, Woodbury left prison in the months before the murders, and Secord knew his grandson was back in Maine, Tepichin and attorney Michael Perry said in their appeal.
Woodbury, meanwhile, knew the layout of Secord’s camp, including the spare key his grandfather kept outside the cabin, the attorneys said.
He also knew about the handgun inside it, telling the state police he considered it his own, the attorneys said. While the gun was hidden under a hot water heater, it wasn’t locked up, and the door to the cabin didn’t lock properly, the attorneys said.
Those factors created an “unreasonable risk of criminal misconduct,” the attorneys said, noting that Secord “knew his felon grandson was in the area and familiar with the cabin and handgun…” via Concord Monitor.