Jury Rules Against Gun Shop in Landmark Case

Matt Alan, owner of the former Badger Guns, now renamed Brew City Shooter's Supply. photo from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.Mike De Sisti

In what is being called a landmark court decision, jurors have ordered a Wisconsin gun store to pay $5.73 million on Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by two Milwaukee police officers who were shot and wounded by a gun bought at the store, according to this story from The Chicago Tribune.

The lawsuit brought by the two officers regarding the 2009 shooting claimed that Badger Guns was negligent when it ignored warning signs that the gun was being sold to an authorized person, who would then turn it over to an unauthorized individual, in what is commonly known as a straw purchase.

The gun was later used by Julius Burton to shoot Officer Bryan Norberg and Officer Graham Kunish, according to CNN.com.

The case, which held a firearm retailer responsible for disregarding the potential harm of their sales, is the second of its kind in the U.S. and the first to ever rule against a gun store. The other case concluded early this summer in which an Alaskan gun store was exonerated of wrongdoing, according to this story from The Washington Post.

"I didn't want to send a message around the country," said Patrick Dunphy, attorney for the officers, after the verdict was read. "What I wanted to do was represent my two clients. 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 representing Badger Guns, James Vogts, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he intends to appeal the verdict.

Vogts argued that the gun shop's owner, Adam Allan, coun't be held financially responsible for crimes connected to a weapon sold at the store, according to the Post story.

In 2005, a federal law was passed that grants blanket civil immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers, but with several exceptions, the story says. Among these is "negligent entrustment" of a buyer with a firearm, for which the jury found Badger Guns liable.

In May of 2009, surveillance footage from inside Badger Guns shows Jacob Collins enter the store with 18-year-old Julius Burton, who gestured to a Taurus PT140 handgun. The footage shows Burton tell Collins "That's the one I want," though defendants said the exchange hadn't been seen by the store clerk, the Post story says.

When Collins was filling out his FInancial Transaction Form, he first checked "no" to being the actual buyer/transferee of the gun, the suit says. When advised to do so by the store clerk, Collins changed his answer to "yes," the complaint alleges.

Two days later, Collins and Burton came back to pick up the gun and ammunition and that was it. Burton fired seven shots at the officers the following month when they confronted him on the street.

In his testimony last week, Burton said the gun shop's reputation as being loose with the rules was well known.

"Everyone knew about it, Badgers," Burton said. "That is where a lot of people go, so I was like, I'll go there."

The Associated Press says more than 500 firearms found at crimes scenes can be traced to the gun shop.

The store is now known as Brew City Shooter Supply.