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By Lisa Helem
Oct. 14 — A jury's recent $5.7 million verdict against a gun retailer in a case involving two police officers who were shot reflected the retailer’s “slipshod” business practices, the officers' attorney tells Bloomberg BNA.
The plaintiffs' complaint called the retailer one of “the most notorious gun dealers in America.”
Badger Guns, Inc.'s poor business practices, attorney Patrick Dunphy said Oct. 15, allowed the straw purchase of the gun used to shoot the officers.
But a lawyer for the gun shop said his client plans to appeal.
“When this case was filed, we knew it was likely to end up in the appellate courts,” attorney James Vogts, of Swanson, Martin & Bell LLP said in an Oct. 15 statement sent to Bloomberg BNA.
“Significant legal issues were decided in the case that impacted the evidence the jury was permitted to consider and the legal standards they were told to apply,” Vogts said. “We will appeal.”
A Milwaukee Circuit Court jury issued the verdict Oct. 13, finding for Milwaukee police officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch on negligent entrustment and other claims.
Roughly $730,000 in punitive damages were assessed, according to Dunphy, who represented the officers and is cofounder of Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Cannon & Dunphy, S.C.
Dunphy said he gained a sense of what persuaded the jurors after speaking with some of them after the verdict.
“Apparently one of the single most compelling things was the fact that the business was run in such an incredibly slipshod fashion. The owner of the business did not know the rules and regulations and we were able to establish that during the course of the testimony,” Dunphy said.
The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed by Congress in 2005, provides immunity for firearm manufacturers and sellers in many civil actions, but allows actions brought against sellers for negligent entrustment and in some other instances.
In their complaint, Norberg and Kunisch alleged that Milwaukee-based Badger Guns negligently and unlawfully sold a Taurus PT140 Pro .40 caliber gun to Jacob Collins in May 2009.
Collins was barred from buying firearms under federal law because he was an unlawful user of illegal drugs, and Badger Guns knew or should have known that, the suit alleged.
After purchasing the gun, Collins provided the gun to Julius Burton, then 18, who shot the officers just over a month later, according to the complaint.
The gun shop owner, Dunphy said, “never trained his employees on the rules and regulations” and “never even reviewed this particular sale, even though they knew they had sold to a straw purchaser who ended up giving a gun to somebody who shot two police officers.”
“So it was the absolute disregard on the part of this gun dealer for rules, for regulations, for training, for taking seriously their responsibility to be a gatekeeper for the public,” he said.
In recent years, the complaint alleged, 90 percent of straw buyers prosecuted in Milwaukee bought their guns at Badger Guns.
The officers said Badger Guns has recently “ranked as the number one crime gun dealer in America, selling more guns traced to crime than any other dealer.”
Dunphy said while this suit was “a particular sale here by a rogue gun-dealer that just totally disregarded his legal obligations. I think it may be landmark in one respect. Punitive damages were awarded and we were able to fit within the limited window we have here under federal law and that might encourage rogue gun dealers—gun dealers that don't pay attention to what their legal responsibilities are—to take them seriously.”
Asked whether he hoped the suit's outcome would deter other straw gun purchases, he said, “I'm optimistic that gun dealers that maybe haven't realized that their procedures are so important to help reduce the number of straw buys might wake up and say, ‘You know what, I've got an obligation to the public and I need to tighten things up.' ”
The plaintiffs said in their complaint that their suit didn't “challenge in any way the right of law-abiding citizens to bear arms” or “the right of responsible gun dealers to operate a business of selling guns to law-abiding citizens.”
Instead, the plaintiffs said, their suit was about a gun dealer that “negligently and illegally supplies the criminal market” with guns, which causes foreseeable harm, like the shooting in this case.
Cannon & Dunphy, S.C. and the Brady Center for Prevent Gun Violence Legal Action Project represented Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch.
James Vogts of Swanson, Martin & Bell LLP represented Badger Guns, Inc.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Helem in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at email@example.com
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