In what is likely the first verdict of its kind since federal laws shielding gun stores from being sued were enacted, a Wisconsin jury has held that a gun store must pay $5.73 million to two police officers who were shot by a gun the store sold illegally.
The civil lawsuit against the gun store tested the limits of liability for gun stores after federal laws were changed in 2005 preventing most lawsuits against guns sellers. While most lawsuits were prevented, the law did allow some lawsuits to continue against storeowners, including situations in which the store illegally sold firearms which were later used to hurt others.
In this case, the shooting victims who sued the gun store were two police officers, both of whom were shot multiple times.
Federal law requires the purchaser of a firearm to complete a form saying whether they is in fact the true purchaser or whether they were buying it for someone else. In this case, the real buyer of the gun was 18-year-old Julius Burton, who was too young to legally purchase a gun. So Burton went into the gun store with an older friend, Jacob Collins, to have Collins act as if Collins were buying the gun, when the real purchaser was Burton.
Store surveillance video used during the trial showed the 18-year-old pointing his finger into the gun case to show Collins which gun to buy. The injured police officers claimed that Collins filled out the paperwork and correctly checked the box saying “No” in response to the question whether he was the actual purchaser of the gun, and that Collins changed his answer to falsely state “Yes” after being told to do so by an employee of the gun store.
The attorney for the gun store has promised to appeal the decision, contending that the law in fact does shield the gun store in this case, and that the police officers claims should have been thrown out without a trial.
Here’s an article from the Washington Post describing the situation in more detail:
The multimillion dollar Wisconsin gun store verdict that could reverberate in the gun debate
A Milwaukee state court jury ordered Badger Guns, one of the country’s most prominent firearm retailers, to pay $5.73 million after the suburban West Milwaukee store was found liable for negligence Tuesday in the 2009 shooting of Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch, two local law enforcement officers.
The landmark case, which held firearm retailers responsible for disregarding the potential harm of their sales, is only the second of its kind nationwide — and the first to rule against the gun store.
(The other case, concluded early this summer, exonerated an Alaskan gun store of wrongdoing.)
“I didn’t want to send a message around the country,” Dunphy told reporters after the verdict was handed down. “What I wanted to do was represent my two clients, two Milwaukee police officers.”
He added, “If some gun dealers around the country realize that they may have their feet held to the fire because of the penal damage award here, then that’s a bonus.”
The defense attorney, James Vogts, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he intends to appeal. He argued at trial that Badger Guns owner, Adam Allan, couldn’t be held financially responsible for crimes connected to a weapon sold at the store, the AP reports.
A federal law passed in 2005 granted blanket civil immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers, but with several exceptions. Among these is “negligent entrustment” of a buyer with a firearm, for which the jury found Badger Guns liable.
The case against the store — formerly Badger Outdoors, now Brew City Shooter Supply — began with a problematic sale, the suit argued.
In May of 2009, Jacob Collins, a “straw purchaser,” arrived in Badger Guns with 18-year-old Julius Burton. Surveillance footage from inside the store shows Burton gesturing to his gun of choice: a Taurus PT140 Pro .40 caliber handgun.
“That’s the one I want,” he told Collins, an exchange the defendants said had not been seen by the store clerk who handled Collins’s purchase.
Before making the purchase, Collins was asked to fill out a Firearms Transaction Form, on which he initially checked “no” to being the actual buyer/transferee of the gun, the suit alleged. But on the counsel of Donald Flora, the store clerk, he changed his response to “yes,” the complaint alleged.
Two days later, Collins and Burton returned to the store to pick up the gun and some ammunition. Burton paid Collins, and they parted ways.
In this Oct. 5, 2015 photo, Milwaukee Police Officer Bryan Norberg describes being shot while testifying in court during the Badger Guns trial in Milwaukee. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
The following month, Norberg and Kunisch were on duty inside a squad car when they saw Burton riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. The officers directed Burton to move, as riding on the sidewalk goes against a Milwaukee ordinance. The 18-year-old ignored them and continued cycling.
The officers exited their car and started pursuing Burton, attempting to talk to him. He started flailing his arms, trying to flee and fighting aggressively, according to the complaint.
Then Burton pulled out a gun and started shooting. Both officers were hit, with Kunisch sustaining several severe injuries and Norberg wounded in the face.
Seven .40 caliber casings later, Burton fled, but he was found shortly afterwards in a basement. There, he had with him ten unfitted cartridges of .40GFL rounds, one loose .40GFL bullet and the Taurus PT140 Pro.
Though Burton was charged and later sent to jail, where he still remains, another wrongdoing haunted the officers and their families: At age 18, Burton couldn’t legally purchase a handgun by himself. Someone had to help him.
With their troubling businesses practices, the jury concluded, Badger Guns provided Burton with the opportunity to obtain a gun through the purchase by Collins.
In his testimony last week, the shooter himself described the store as a go-to place, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
“Everyone knew about it, Badgers,” Burton said. “That is where a lot of people go, so I was like, I’ll go there.”
“There” was the source of more than 500 firearms found at crime scenes, authorities said, according to the AP. A charging document for an unrelated 2005 case called it the “No. 1 crime gun dealer in America.”
Badger Outdoors changed its name and transferred ownership to Badger Guns in 2007, allegedly to avoid having its license revoked by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found. Through the name changes and the changes in ownership, the store has remained in the hands of the Allan family, even in its current iteration as Brew City Shooter Supply.
Badger Outdoors was owned by Walter Allan, the father of Badger Guns owner Adam Allan. In 2012, Michael Allan, Adam’s brother, took ownership and changed the name to Brew City Shooter Supply.
The store’s questionable practices helped sway jurors.
“A responsible business owner would do more and everyone agreed on that from the start,” jury foreperson Brett Heaton Juarez said. “Gun dealers have to do more than what we saw in this instance.”