Closing arguments were made today in a case that represents a significant test of the PLCAA, with plaintiff’s attorneys arguing that the owners of Badger Guns in Milwaukee should pay millions of dollars in damages for selling a gun later used to shoot two Milwaukee police officers, reports the Associated Press.
The Protection of Legal Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) protects gun manufacturers and sellers from civil penalties when guns they’ve sold are used for criminal purposes, provided it can’t be proven they had specific knowledge that the purchaser intended to use the gun to commit a crime. The law goes so overboard to protect gun dealers that it requires that anyone who sues them unsuccessfully must then reimburse them the full cost of their legal defense. (CORRECTION: Reimbursement is not an automatic function of the PLCAA. Rather, it is a result of the way other state and federal laws related to civil legal costs interact with the PLCAA’s protection of gun dealers. This was clearly misrepresented here.) The PLCAA basically says the only time a gun dealer is negligent in the sale of a deadly weapon is when the dealer is part of a criminal conspiracy, and goes out of its way to discourage victims from even making that case. It is, in a word, ridiculous.
Officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunisch (pictured) contend that the salesperson at Badger Guns had ample evidence to determine that the pending sale of the gun later used to shoot them was at least very suspect, if not outright illegal.
The officers’ lawyer, Patrick Dunphy, told jurors there were several tipoffs that should have been sufficient to cancel the sale, including improperly marked forms and the behavior of the buyer, Jacob Collins, and the eventual recipient, Julius Burton, who was too young to buy the gun. Burton was with Collins when the purchase was made. Dunphy also said the shop failed to verify Collins’ identification at the time of the transfer.
Burton was stopped by Norberg and Kunisch while riding his bicycle along a sidewalk in the summer of 2009. He shot both officers in the head, sending a bullet crashing through Norberg’s mouth and into his shoulder, and destroying one of Kunisch’s eyes and part of his frontal lobe. Both officers survived—Norberg is still on the force, but Kunisch was forced to retire because of his wounds.
It would seem evident that selling a handgun to an underaged buyer relying upon a “straw buyer” sans identification in an illegal transaction would qualify as negligence, but, honestly, who the fuck even knows with the PLCAA.
Delana’s daughter, Colby Sue Weathers, purchased a handgun from Odessa Gun & Pawn in May 2012. Her family took this gun from her “fearing she was at risk of committing suicide,” per the Brady Center. Knowing that Weathers would go back and attempt to purchase another gun once she got a check, Delana called Odessa Gun & Pawn and begged the shop not to sell to her. “Please, please, please, I’m begging you, the mother, don’t sell her a gun again,” she said.
Two days later, Weathers bought a .45 caliber Hi-Point semiautomatic pistol from Odessa Gun & Pawn and used it to shoot and kill her father, Tex C. Delana, within the hour.
The Delanas tried to sue Odessa Gun & Pawn and wound up owing the dealer $200,000 in legal fees.
Apparently Badger Guns has been comfortably operating in bad faith for quite some time now, secure behind the protections of this outrageous law:
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 case. A former federal agent has also said the shop had failed take necessary precautions to prevent straw purchases.
The suit against Badger Guns will be significant, if for no other reason than it will test the odiousness of the PLCAA and its protection of sleazy gun dealers against the words and safety and sanctified status of law enforcement. Maybe a grieving mother, distraught that her mentally ill daughter had murdered her husband, can’t crack this dumb thing, but two police officers in the line of duty just might.
And, if not, Hillary Clinton has vowed to repeal the PLCAA if she is elected President. President Obama urged Americans to become single issue voters over gun violence in America. Maybe this isn’t exactly what he had in mind, but, at any rate, a civil court in Milwaukee can get a lot of Clinton skeptics off the hook by finally busting a hole in this thing.