Not All Slippery Slopes Are Dangerous

When news broke that two Milwaukee police officers were suing a local gun shop, which supposedly sold the firearm later used to shoot them, many were doubtful the case would go anywhere. I admit I thought it was a stretch as well; after all, how can you hold the store accountable for what a customer does with a legally purchased item? Well, the jury has spoken and decided to award the officers nearly $6 million, including $730,000 in punitive damages! Guess what? After researching the case a bit further; not only do I believe the officers have a valid point, I think they deserve every penny of the award.

In 2009, Officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch attempted to stop 18 year old Julius Burton for a relatively minor violation- riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. After a brief struggle, Burton produced a concealed handgun and shot both officers in the face. Norberg lost eight teeth, part of his cheek and still has a round buried in his shoulder. Although he has since returned to duty, he claims his injuries make working difficult and that he is plagued with daily pain. His partner Kunisch was not so lucky. After losing an eye and part of his frontal lobe, he was forced to retire and will be disabled for life.

Of course, Burton was arrested and is now serving 80 years for 2 counts of intentional attempted homicide of a police officer, but that is not the whole story. Burton confessed that he had obtained the illegal firearm by convincing another gentleman, Jacob Collins, to purchase the gun on his behalf for a mere $40. Collins eventually pled guilty of making this straw purchase and is now serving 2 years; a light sentence to be sure, but due in part to his weaving an even more interesting story.

Gun StoreYou see, Collins told a tale of every gun control advocate’s worst scenario – a gun shop which willingly sold guns to anyone and everyone who had the money, including those openly making straw purchases for those unable to buy the firearm themselves. I know what many of you are saying “How can a store know who the gun will be given to? How can a gun shop be held accountable for legally selling a gun which is then used illegally?” I thought the same thing, thus my original thought that this was a weak case.

However, during the course of the trial, additional evidence was produced and I must admit that it is not only damning but downright criminal.  The officers’ attorneys theorized that the shop in question knowingly allowed straw purchases to take place and were known throughout the community as the “go to” place to obtain “legal” weapons. Nice theory; and it probably would have remained a theory if it weren’t for police records which indicated that over 500 weapons recovered at area crime scenes originated at that very shop. It seems that every time BATFE attempted to take action against the shop, it would close down and magically reopen under a new name, but always owned by another member of the same family – something which has happened at least three times. But the final blow, one which is hard to ignore or explain away, is the security footage from the shop’s own cameras showing Burton and Collins shopping, Burton picking out the firearm in question and Collins buying it. Backed by copies of the store-submitted BATFE forms, the officers’ team argued that not only did the shop employees look the other way, but they actively assisted Collins in filling out the forms and even had him change information which said the purchase was being made for someone else.

I agree that it is wrong for gun dealers to be held responsible for the actions of their clients, but that is NOT why the officers won their suit. The jury did not hold the shop responsible for what Burton did; it held the shop responsible for what their own employee did- facilitate a straw purchase, one which almost anyone witnessing it would have recognized as such. Furthermore, the jury determined that, by facilitating this straw purchase, the shop was negligent and that this negligence contributed to the officers’ injuries.

Yes, this is a slippery slope and it is likely to lead to additional gun dealers being sued when a firearm they sold is used in a criminal act. However, I still have faith in our legal system and believe that in the normal day to day case involving responsible gun dealers these future cases will fail. I also believe it is rare to find a gun dealer who willingly looks the other way just to make a buck, but I do not feel that holding the minority responsible is a threat to my own rights, but instead a protection of them.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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