MILWAUKEE (AP) — A lawyer for a pair of Milwaukee police officers suing a gun shop for negligence told jurors Monday that the store should have to pay several million dollars in damages for selling a gun that was used to wound his clients.
The case has drawn attention because it could set gun law precedent if jurors find the gun shop owners can be held financially responsible for a crime committed with a weapon purchased at their store.
The gun that was used to shoot Officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch was purchased by a straw buyer, someone who buys a gun for another person who can’t legally purchase one.
Attorneys defending the owner and operators of Badger Guns and its predecessor, Badger Outdoors, said in closing arguments Monday that their clients didn’t act negligently when they sold the weapon. James Vogts and Wendy Gunderson said their clients and the clerk who sold the gun were deceived by the straw buyer.
The officers’ lawyer, Patrick Dunphy, told jurors there were several tipoffs that should have been sufficient to cancel the sale, including improperly marked forms and the behavior of the buyer, Jacob Collins, and the eventual recipient, Julius Burton, who was too young to buy the gun. Burton was with Collins when the purchase was made. Dunphy also said the shop failed to verify Collins’ identification at the time of the transfer.
The case recently surfaced in the presidential campaigns after Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would push for a repeal of the George W. Bush-era gun law that lawyers say shields their client from liability claims.
Authorities have said more than 500 firearms recovered from crime scenes had been traced back to Badger Guns and Badger Outdoors, making it the “No. 1 crime gun dealer in America,” according to a 2005 charging document from an unrelated case. A former federal agent has also said the shop had failed take necessary precautions to prevent straw purchases.
Norberg and Kunisch were shot after they stopped Burton for riding his bike on the sidewalk in the summer of 2009. A bullet shattered eight of Norberg’s teeth, blew through his cheek and lodged into his shoulder. He has remained on the force but says his wounds have made his work difficult. Kunisch was struck several times, losing an eye and part of the frontal lobe of his brain. He says the wounds forced him to retire.
Dunphy said the jury should award Norberg more than $2 million for his wounds and Kunisch $5.6 million. Further, he said, the jury should punish the defendants and send a warning to other gun shops with punitive damages of $1 million.
Vogts, representing Adam Allan, the owner of Badger Guns at the time of the sale, said the officers had to prove sales clerk Donald Flora knew he was committing a crime when he made the sale but that the doesn’t support that. He said Collins and Burton went out of their way to dupe him.
Flora testified earlier in the trial that he didn’t remember the transaction.
Gunderson, representing Walter Allan, Mick Beatovic and Badger Outdoors, emphasized that her clients weren’t negligent, since they sold their stake in the operation to Walter Allan’s son, Adam Allan.
Both defense lawyers pushed back against the assertion that their clients engaged in a conspiracy.
“Adam Allan did not buy his father’s gun store with the intention he was going to sell guns to criminals,” Vogts said.
The jury began deliberations Monday and was expected to resume its work Tuesday morning.
Burton pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree attempted intentional homicide and is serving an 80-year sentence; Collins got a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to making a straw purchase for an underage buyer.