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On May 22, 1996, Ryan Eslinger, 19, went to the Kimball Junction, Utah, Kmart to buy a shotgun. Before making the purchase “he had been adjudicated as a mental defective,” said plaintiffs’ attorney James McKenna. Nevertheless, when filling out the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) weapons form, Eslinger answered “no” to the question regarding mental illness. Although Eslinger didn’t have a driver’s license for identification, a Kmart clerk, 17-year-old Jared Ryan, accepted Eslinger’s passport, even though it did not include his current address. The next day, Eslinger brought the gun back. It was in pieces and he wanted Kmart to reassemble it. “Maybe he took it apart because he didn’t want to kill himself,” McKenna said. “The store security manager took a look at [Eslinger], pulled the ATF form and saw that it didn’t have proof of current address.” He called Kmart’s legal department, but they never called back, alleged McKenna. Although the security manager was against giving Eslinger the gun back, he was overruled by the store manager. Eslinger walked out with it and, several hours later, shot himself to death. Eslinger’s parents sued Kmart, charging violations of gun-control laws requiring proof of residence. They also alleged negligent training and supervision of store personnel. At trial, McKenna played a training video on gun sales. It warned that “the most important sale is the one you don’t make” and cautioned against selling to anyone “who looked even a little funny.” At the time of the sale, Eslinger allegedly fit that description. On a heavy dose of the psychotic Clozaril, which causes an overproduction of saliva, “he was literally drooling,” said McKenna. Also, he had self-inflicted scars and burn marks on his neck and arms, McKenna added. Kmart contended that it complied with the laws on gun sales, that Eslinger appeared clean-cut and normal and that the sale was not a proximate cause of his death. On Sept. 12, a Salt Lake City jury awarded the Eslingers $1.5 million, then added $1.5 million in punitives the next day. Kmart’s attorney declined to comment. The plaintiff’s attorneys were James McKenna and Robert F. Garvey of Thomas, Garvey, Garvey & Sciotto in St. Clair Shores, Mich., and Sara Henry of Park City, Utah. The defense attorneys were Rodney Parker and Keith Call of Snow, Christensen & Martineau in Salt Lake City.

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