By GREG MOORE
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The trial over a civil lawsuit brought by a pair of seriously wounded police officers against a Wisconsin gun shop that they say has sold hundreds of weapons used in crimes is nearing its conclusion.
The potentially precedent-setting case hinges on whether gun shop owners should be financially responsible for a crime committed with a weapon purchased at their store.
The issue recently surfaced in the presidential campaigns after Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would push for a repeal of a George W. Bush-era gun law that Badger Guns’ defense lawyers say shields their client from liability claims.
Plaintiffs say the shop acted negligently by selling a firearm to a straw buyer in a transaction they should have known was illegal.
Here are key points from the proceedings, which will enter their final week Monday:
Milwaukee Police Officer Bryan Norberg and former Officer Graham Kunisch were shot after they stopped Julius Burton for riding his bike on the sidewalk in the summer of 2009. Surveillance video shows the officers scuffled with Burton and slammed him into a wall before he shot them both in the face.
A bullet shattered eight of Norberg’s teeth, blew through his cheek and lodged into his right 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.
Burton fled, but was later arrested in a home where authorities found the Taurus .40-caliber handgun used in the shooting. He got the weapon a month before the confrontation, giving $40 to Jacob Collins to make the purchase from Badger Guns in the suburb of West Milwaukee. Burton pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and is serving an 80-year sentence; Collins served a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to making a straw purchase for an underage buyer.
The gun shop’s defense lawyers have denied wrongdoing and say the owner, Adam Allan, can’t be held financially responsible for crimes connected to a weapon that his shop sold. The clerk who made the sale has testified that he doesn’t remember the transaction.
Badger Guns has since closed, and a gun shop called Brew City Shooters Supply operates in the same location. Badger Guns was previously known as Badger Outdoors. All three entities have been run by Allan family members.
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 federal case. A former federal agent has also said the shop had failed take necessary precautions to prevent straw purchases. Norberg and Kunisch cite these details and say they show a history of negligence.
Clinton took up gun control days after the mass shooting on an Oregon college campus, saying Congress should undo the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. Republicans, who control the U.S. House and Senate, generally oppose stricter gun control laws.
If the jury sides with the officers, it could create a pathway for similar cases to move forward. The shop owners would have the option to appeal. Norberg and Kunisch are seeking unspecified monetary damages.