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Wisconsin gun shop must pay $5M to wounded police officers

By Doug G. Ware
Wisconsin gun shop must pay $5M to wounded police officers
A Wisconsin jury on Tuesday ordered a gun shop to pay $5 million in punitive damages to two Milwaukee police officers who were badly injured in a 2009 shooting with a firearm purchased there. The officers argued the shop was liable because it sold a gun to a man, who then gave it to the shooting suspect. File photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

MILWAUKEE, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- A Wisconsin jury on Tuesday ordered a gun shop to pay $5 million to two Milwaukee police officers who were badly injured in 2009 by a gun that was purchased there.

Jurors ruled that the gun shop was partially responsible for the injuries sustained by officer Bryan Norberg and former officer Graham Kunisch in June 2009. The policemen were each shot in the face by Julius Burton, 18, after they stopped him for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk and a fight ensued.

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Norberg and Kunisch, who said the shootings left them physically and mentally scarred, argued Badger Guns negligently sold a handgun that ended up in Burton's hands.

As a minor, Burton could not legally purchase the weapon. Therefore, investigators said, he asked another man, Jacob Collins, to buy the gun for him. The officers argued that Badger Guns contributed to their shootings because they approved the handgun sale -- even though Collins admitted during the purchase that he was buying the gun for someone else.

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Milwaukee authorities also alleged that Badger Guns sold nearly 2,000 firearms between 2006 and 2009 that were ultimately used in the commission of a crime. In 2005, the shop ranked as "the No. 1 crime gun dealer in America" after authorities traced 537 firearms used in crimes back to the retailer, CBS News reported.

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"Badger Guns did not do the job it was required to do when it made that sale," Patrick Dunphy, the officers' attorney, said during the trial. "If Badger Guns had done its job ... then Bryan and Graham would not have been shot."

Norberg ultimately returned to the force but said his injury made it difficult to perform the duties of the job -- and Kunisch opted to retire from the police department.

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The officers sought $10 million in damages from the gun shop's owners. Tuesday, jurors awarded half that amount -- $1.5 million for Norberg and $3.5 million for Kunisch, who lost an eye and part of his brain due to the incident.

Badger Guns testified during the trial that it has never intentionally sold firearms 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," testified clerk Donald Flora, who sold the gun to Collins.

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Both Burton and Collins were ultimately sent to prison over the shooting.

Badger Guns can appeal Tuesday's verdict, and some legal experts say its chances of winning the appeal are decent -- especially because President George W. Bush signed a law in 2005 that shielded gun manufacturers and retailers from civil liability.

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