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Judge rules in favor of gun dealer against two Manchester police officers who were shot

By Nancy West - InDepthNH | Feb 15, 2022

Officers Matthew O’Connor, on crutches, and Ryan Hardy, behind him, leave the District Court Monday May 16, 2016 in Manchester, after the court hearing for Ian MacPherson, who was charged with shooting them. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, Pool)

A judge has found in favor of Chester Arms in Derry and the state Department of Safety in the lawsuit filed against them by two Manchester police officers who were shot and wounded in May 2016.

Manchester Police Officers Ryan Hardy and Matthew O’Connor both recovered and returned to work. They argued negligence and said their assailant should have never been able to buy a gun.

The shooter, Ian MacPherson, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was sentenced to five years in the secure psychiatric unit.

Hardy and O’Connor argued in Rockingham County Superior Court that MacPherson should not have been able to purchase the gun from Chester Arms because of his history of mental illness and criminal history.

In his order dated Feb. 11, Judge David Ruoff granted Chester Arms and the Department of Safety’s motion for summary judgment, which means the judge entered the judgment in favor Chester Arms and the Department of Safety and against Hardy and O’Connor without a full trial.

The lawyer representing Chester Arms, Sean R. List, said, “The Court’s order upholds the right of law-abiding firearms dealers to legally sell firearms without fear of liability for criminal actions of third-parties.

“The lawsuit stemmed from the legal sale of a firearm to an individual who several weeks later made the personal choice to carry out a criminal act… The criminal actor is responsible for his or her own actions,” List said.

A Manchester police spokesman referred calls to Hardy’s and O’Connor’s lawyer, Manchester attorney Mark Morrissette, who did not immediately return a call Monday night.

Ruoff said the Department of Safety’s Gun Line investigated MacPherson’s application to purchase the pistol with due care and the Department of Safety was entitled to sovereign immunity.

“To the extent (Hardy and O’Connor) contend that the Gun Line should have greater access to resources to investigate an applicant’s fitness to own firearms, the Court finds such an inquiry to be a legislative and not a judicial question,” Ruoff wrote.

Chester Arms argued it was immune from civil lawsuits so long as it has not been convicted of a felony in relation to the firearms transfer at issue and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act also prohibits such lawsuits.

The Department of Safety’s Gun Line listed MacPherson’s application as “delayed” until the day he was indicted in connection with the shooting when it was changed to “denied,” according to Ruoff’s order.

Gun Line is responsible for doing background checks on all handgun purchases through a Federal Firearms Licensed gun dealer, according to the Department of Safety’s website.

Once the sale is put on a “delay” status, a Federal Firearms Licensee is required to wait until after three business days before it may proceed with the sale, according to the order.

While the delay was still in place but after the required three business days, on April 1, 2016, MacPherson returned to Chester Arms and purchased the firearm and on May 13, 2016, he used the weapon to shoot the Manchester police officers, Ruoff wrote.

The Gun Line had delayed the sale to conduct further research regarding MacPherson’s misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.

“The reports showed that none of MacPherson’s ‘NICS hits’ disqualified him from taking possession of the firearm because they did not meet a victim relationship requirement prescribed by federal law,” Ruoff wrote.

Ruoff also addressed comments made by Merrimack Police detective Scott Park, who sent the Gun Line a fax stating:

“Merrimack Police have had many dealings with [Mr.] MacPherson to including having been made aware through family members that he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. [Mr.] MacPherson has displayed on many occasions delusional behavior which should serve as significant concern should he obtain a firearm.”

Ruoff wrote: “Further, to the extent Plaintiffs contend that Mr. MacPherson should have been denied access to a firearm based on mere allegations of his mental illness, the Court finds that such an action would have been inconsistent with federal regulation.”

The law requires an adjudication as a “mental defective” or paperwork showing an individual has been committed to a mental institution in order to deny the individual access to a firearm, Ruoff wrote.

“In addition, infringing on an individual’s right to keep and bear arms based on an unsubstantiated report would not comport with the State Constitution. See N.H. Const. pt. I, art. 2-a (‘All persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property and the state.’),” Ruoff wrote.


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