Friday, September 29, 2023
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Gun-Shop Owner Fights Straw-Buying Blame

MILWAUKEE (CN) - The owner of a gun shop that closed after the criminals to which it sold guns shot police officers took the stand Thursday to fight civil claims.

Officers Brian Norberg and Graham Kunisch were shot in the head during their first night on patrol in 2009 by Julius Burton, who is now serving 80 years in prison for the crime, according to news reports.

Burton testified from prison Wednesday that Badger Guns was the go-to place for buying guns illegally. In Burton's case, he was just 18 years old and in need of a straw buyer, someone older than 21 to purchase a handgun for him.

Though Norberg has continued to work as a police officer since the shooting, Kunisch lost an eye and testified earlier this week that surgeries and personality changes he has suffered keep him on duty-disability retirement.

The officers are represented by Patrick Dunphy of Cannon & Dunphy.

While a 2005 federal law protects gun sellers from liability when their wares are used to commit a crime, local news reports the plaintiffs here are arguing Badger Guns' behavior falls into an exception: that the seller knew or should have known the guns it sold were being used to commit crimes.

According to a long-term investigation by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Norberg and Kunisch were among six Milwaukee police officers injured over a 20-month period with guns sold by Badger Guns or [its predecessor] Badger Outdoors."

The seller has a long list of past violations and their license has been under review before, the Journal Sentinel reports.

In its ninth day of proceedings Thursday, the trial opened with testimony from Kunisch's primary doctor, who told the court the former police officer will never be fit for gainful employment due to his traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Joseph Nicholas said TBI victims have problems with impulse control and filtering their thoughts and speech in a work-appropriate way.

"The potential for that is certainly there," he said. "He may say things that most people would consider inappropriate."

Kunisch had been "slacking off" on seeing his psychiatrist, the last time Nicholas saw him in March, the doctor continued.

Nicholas said he encouraged Kunisch to return to address "disturbing dreams" and "intrusive thoughts" he has had since being shot.

After the plaintiffs rested their case, defense attorneys James Vogts and Wendy Gunderson made several motions to dismiss claims, most of which failed.

Notably, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge John DiMotto refused to dismiss punitive-damages claims, agreeing with plaintiff attorney Brett Eckstein that no proof of malice is needed to win on such a claim - only proof of "intentional disregard for rights."

The owner of the now-defunct Badger Guns Inc., Adam Allan, testified that he bought all the inventory from the business his father had founded with two friends when he was a child. He told the court he did not know of the 70 so-called "occurrences" - individual violations of federal gun-dealing laws - that his father's business, Badger Outdoors, had on its record from 2006 to when he purchased it in 2007.

Allan also said people under 21 regularly entered the shop to look at "long guns" such as rifles, which can be legally bought at age 18. During these visits, he said many of them looked at handguns.

"You're automatically going to go, 'That's a pretty cool pistol, that's something I'd like to own," he said, noting that customers must pass the handgun display on their way to look at long guns.

Donald Flora, the man who actually sold the gun to Burton's straw buyer, testified earlier in the week - but Allan today told the court Flora only worked about 13 hours per month at Badger Guns and was not on the payroll. Flora was instead paid in gun shop "inventory."

A Google search lists Badger Guns as "permanently closed," but lists a business called Brew City Shooters Supply, a gun shop and shooting range, at the same address. Its website says it opened in 2012 and lists the owner as Mike Allan, the brother of Adam Allan, who sold guns at Badger Guns until his license was revoked.

A similar lawsuit brought by two other Milwaukee police officers is set to go to trial in May, according to online court records. These officers are also represented by Dunphy.

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