GREEN BAY – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against an online firearms marketplace by the father of a woman fatally shot by her estranged husband in Harrison in 2018.
Sara Schmidt, 40, a mother of three, was killed by her husband, Robert Schmidt, 49, on Jan. 9, 2018. He shot her in the driveway of his parents’ house, then fled to the backyard, where he took his own life.
Sara Schmidt’s father, Richard Webber, who serves as the administrator of Schmidt’s estate, filed a lawsuit against Armslist, claiming the online firearms marketplace allowed Robert Schmidt to illegally obtain the gun used in the homicide as a result of “reckless and unlawful business practices.”
Robert Schmidt wasn’t allowed to have a gun due to an ongoing domestic violence case — also involving Sara Schmidt. Robert Schmidt used Armslist to connect with a 19-year-old private seller and bought a handgun for $550 in a Walmart parking lot a day before he fatally shot his wife. While federal law requires background checks for sales by licensed gun sellers, no such requirement exists for private sales.
In a decision filed Tuesday, U.S. District Judge William Griesbach dismissed Webber’s lawsuit against Armslist, concluding Robert Schmidt’s actions “constituted a superseding cause, alleviating” Armslist of liability for Sara Schmidt’s death.
“There is no reason to believe that even if Schmidt’s estranged husband had not purchased a gun from a person who posted an advertisement on the Armslist website, Schmidt would still be alive,” Griesbach’s decision says. “Armslist is hardly the only source of guns in this country, and one does not need a gun to take another person’s life.
“Schmidt was killed by a person so determined to take her life, so consumed by hatred, that he was even willing to take his own. The likelihood that such a person would have found another source from which to obtain a firearm or another way to take Schmidt’s life is more plausible than plaintiff’s claim that she would still be alive.”
Griesbach acknowledges in his decision that Robert Schmidt used Armslist to obtain the gun used to kill Sara Schmidt but determined “lawfully providing a forum for individuals to engage others interested in buying and selling firearms is simply too far removed from and out of proportion to the criminal act.”
It would be “out of proportion to the lawful conduct in which they engaged” to hold Armslist liable for Sara Schmidt’s death and “would likely destroy their business,” Griesbach’s decision says.
“This case, and many like it, represent a nationwide effort to use litigation as a way of circumventing the legislative process in the area of gun control,” Griesbach’s decision says.
There may be reason to prohibit websites such as Armslist that connect private sellers with gun buyers, Griesbach’s decision says, “some of whom are intent on violating federal and state laws prohibiting certain individuals from owning or possessing guns.”
“In a government such as ours, however, public policy is more properly determined by the peoples’ elected representatives rather than by the courts,” the decision says. “But determining public policy based on one tragic set of circumstances is not the proper function of courts or juries.”
Schmidt died about five years after Yasmeen Daniel, who was killed at a spa in Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee, with two other women — Cary Robuck and Maelyn Lind — by her “abusive, estranged husband,” Radcliffe Haughton, who also illegally obtained a gun by using Armslist, Webber’s lawsuit says.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2019 upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed in the wake of that shooting, ruling that Armslist was protected by the Communications Decency Act from liability for the actions of users.