A jury’s decision in Wisconsin that a Milwaukee gun store was negligent in the illegal sale of a gun that was later used in a shooting won’t necessarily have immediate effects in the gun marketplace, experts said.
A jury in Milwaukee sided on Tuesday with two police officers in a civil case that claimed a gun store bore some responsibility in the illegal sale of a gun that was later used to shoot them. Milwaukee police officer Bryan Norberg and former officer Graham Kunisch were seriously wounded in 2009, when Julius Burton shot both of them in their faces after they stopped him for riding his bike on the sidewalk. The officers said they were left physically and mentally scarred.
Authorities later linked the weapon to 21-year-old Jacob Collins. Burton, 18 years old at the time, was too young to legally purchase a gun, but had paid Collins to illegally buy it for him at Badger Guns in a deal called a straw purchase, authorities said.
Gun control advocates say a federal law passed in 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms, makes it difficult to hold gun sellers liable for similar incidents.
“Getting a case like this even before a jury is a herculean task,” said Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., referring to the law as the “gun industry immunity law.”
“When we talk about the broader implications of this decision, they are not immediately apparent,” Everitt said, noting it was an “achievement” that the officers’ attorneys, including some from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, were able to even advance the case to be heard before a jury.
This is only the second case brought by citizens for a negligence-based claim that has made it to a jury, Everitt pointed out. In the first case in Alaska, a jury sided with the gun store owner, as first reported by the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.
While there hasn’t been an effort to repeal the 2005 law in Congress recently, it was a hot topic in last night’s Democratic presidential debate, with Hillary Clinton pointing out that while she had voted against the provision, her opponent, Bernie Sanders, had voted for it.
Norberg returned to the police department after the shooting but said that his injuries made it hard to do his job. Kunisch retired from the force. The officers’ lawsuit sought nearly $10 million in damages. The jury awarded Norberg $1.4 million and Kunisch $3.575 million, plus an additional $730,000 in punitive damages against Badger Guns, said Patrick Dunphy, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Burton pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree intentional homicide and is in prison serving an 80-year sentence. He was also convicted in the illegal gun purchase. Collins served a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to buying a gun for an underage person.
According to the lawsuit, Badger Guns approved the sale despite a number of irregularities, including the fact that the man filling out the form had noted that the gun was not for him. Milwaukee authorities also alleged that between 2006 and 2009, more than 1,800 guns purchased from Badger Guns had been used in crimes.
During the trial, the gun store’s lawyers and staff maintained that Badger Guns had never intentionally sold weapons to criminals.
“The last thing we want to do is put a gun in the hands of someone who is going to commit a crime,” sales clerk Donald Flora testified during the trial.
A salesperson with Badger Guns and Ammo in Milwaukee declined to comment today to ABC News. Attorneys for the plaintiffs and defendants did not respond to requests for comment.
ABC affiliate WISN-TV contributed to this report.