After seeing a surveillance video of a gun store transaction, then being shown two policemen being shot from a weapon bought by an underage person, a Milwaukee jury found the store liable.
“I am surprised at how easy it is to get a gun, and if you’re organized and a decent liar, pretty much anyone can,” juror Brett Heaton said. “So it is incumbent upon gun dealers to do everything they can to vet people when they come in.”
The jury contended that Badger Guns, which sold the gun to a straw purchaser who had bought it on behalf of the actual shooter, was to be held responsible for the injuries sustained by two Milwaukee police officers in 2009. The purchase had been made by Jacob Collins, 21, for Julius Burton, 18, who at the time was too young to buy a firearm. Burton, who a month later shot and injured officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch, is currently serving 80 years in prison. Collins spent two years in jail.
Burton had convinced Collins to buy a gun for him. According to CBS News, the jury concluded that the employees of the gun store either knew or should have known about this. “They didn’t care. I mean, a core part of their market was criminals buying guns,” Milwaukee Chief of Police, Edward Flynn, said. “Reckless behavior where gun stores are supplying criminals with firearms has to be something that’s punished.”
The defense attorney said that they will appeal the ruling. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that it was found that Badger Guns and its owner broke four federal laws.
The officers were subsequently rewarded nearly $6 million in health care costs and lost wages, pain and suffering and punitive damages. “The fight has just begun,” Patrick Dunphy, the attorney for the officers, said. “It’s going to be a battle.”
There have only been a few cases where gun manufacturers and dealers have been held accountable to selling a weapon that was used in a crime. Since 2005, when Congress passed the Protection for Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which removes the gun seller from any culpability, only two cases have reached a jury. A similar lawsuit earlier this summer found that an Alaska gun seller was not responsible for a weapon purchased from its store that was later used in a murder in 2006.
“Litigation is one of the most promising avenues to save lives,” Jonathan Lowy, the director of legal action at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said, as reported by TIME. “Any victory that’s achieved in court is going to inspire and help the movement to prevent gun violence, and this latest victory is certainly a very important one.”
Badger Guns were referred to as “No. 1 crime gun dealer in America” by local authorities. As many as 537 weapons bought from Badger Guns were recovered from crime scenes.
“Does this lawsuit immediately make it easy to sue a gun dealer?” Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, said. “No. But I think it’s focused people’s attention on this federal immunity law. And we’ll continue to see lawsuits because it’s not an uncommon occurrence that these sorts of sales occur within a small percentage of rogue gun dealers that don’t follow the law.”
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