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Despite Likely Appeal, Badger Guns Ruling Could Have Immediate Impact

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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This week a Milwaukee jury ruled against a former gun shop to the tune of almost $6 million. The jury said the owners of Badger Guns allowed a "straw purchase" of a weapon in 2009. 

The man who took possession of the gun shot two police officers in the head, seriously wounding them.

The case could be tied up in the court system for years. Yet the ruling could have a more immediate impact. It was the first in the nation to find a gun store liable since a 2005 federal law took effect, which protects gun stores in many cases.

"I think this will have an impact all around the country on those gun dealers in particular, who have for too long adopted kind of shoddy business practices," says Jeri Bonavia, executive director of the Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort. "It's important for us to remember that the vast majority of gun dealers sell guns without having any crime guns traced back to their stores, so these few bad apple dealers such as Badger really stand out from all of the rest of the gun dealers and have clearly been doing things that have certainly endangered our communities."

"I think the ramifications for gun stores are going to be huge," says Nik Clark, who heads the pro-gun group Wisconsin Carry. He expects the owners of Badger Guns to appeal the ruling. Yet he says even if the owners ultimately prevail, this week’s ruling will take a toll on gun stores.

"Between now and the time that the appeal is heard and decided -- which may be years -- businesses, if they're worried about their legal exposure, are going to need to adjust their practices immediately," Clark says.

Clark says some stores might now turn away customers who can legally buy guns.

"If you're 21 years old and you live in the inner city of Milwaukee, you have a legal right to buy a gun and get your concealed carry license for self-defense. What if you don't know a lot about guns and you want to go in with someone who does, and they point to a gun and say 'hey, that's the gun you should buy,' is that a red flag? Because that was some of the evidence used in the case against Badger Guns. These things are very troubling," Clark says.

If gun stores are troubled, perhaps they should be, according to UW-Milwaukee professor and criminal justice expert Stan Stojkovic.

"Are they going to be afraid? Yeah, but maybe that's part of the intention is to make people aware: this is a dangerous product, don't sell it to dangerous people, especially if you know that it's a straw buyer or there's a high probability of that," he says.

Stojkovic says another reason stores might be nervous is that the Badger Guns ruling could prompt additional lawsuits against gun dealers.

"Most of these cases go nowhere, they don't really get to a jury, so this is pretty rare. So there may be people out there -- attorneys -- who are saying, 'hey, listen, this will open the door.' If there are similarly situated cases, I would say to those store owners, beware," Stojkovic says.

Stojkovic says if he owned a gun store he'd make sure employees don’t do anything that could be interpreted as inappropriate in making sales.

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