A shocking verdict that could very well set the stage for a political alliance between police unions and advocates of new restrictions on private firearms ownership, a federal jury in Wisconsin has ordered Milwaukee-based Badger Guns to pay nearly $6 MILLION to two police officers who suffered severe injuries after being shot with a gun purchased at the store.
This unprecedented civil award will encourage efforts to hold gun retailers – and, perhaps, firearms manufacturers – civilly liable for crimes committed by other people. It also reinforces the prevailing (and factually impoverished) narrative of an ever-escalating “war on cops.” Ten additional lawsuits similar to the one filed against Badger Guns are working their way through the courts.
Officers Bryan Norberg and Graham Kunich were both shot in the face by Julius Burton during an altercation in the Summer of 2009. The officers, who arrived in a police van, detained the 18-year-old Burton for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. A struggle broke out during which Burton was slammed into a wall. He then pulled a .40 caliber Taurus pistol and shot both officers in the face.
Norberg, who suffered several shattered teeth and an injury to his shoulder, remains on the force. Kunisch lost his left eye and part of the left frontal lobe of his brain and was forced to retire. Burton, who pleaded guilty to first degree attempted homicide while armed, was sentenced to eighty years plus twenty years of “extended supervision.” Jacob Collins, who acted as the“straw buyer” by purchasing the handgun with $40 provided by Burton, was sentenced to two years in prison.
Although he had received mental health treatment since the age of seven, and had a “diagnostic history” of schizophrenia, Burton was not taking his medication at the time of his encounter with the officers. During his sentencing hearing, Burton – who was chained to a wheelchair — said that he had bought the gun for self-protection, and that he shot the officers out of fear for his life.
For a police officer endowed with “qualified immunity,” that claim is generally enough to justify the use of deadly force. In this case, the best Burton could do was a proposed deal in which he would plead guilty in exchange for a fifty-year prison sentence. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Patricia McMahon, unsatisfied with the deal, imposed an additional thirty years, making the punishment an effective life sentence. Her ruling prompted cheers from dozens of uniformed police officers in the audience, including Chief Ed Flynn.
The verdict in the Badger Guns lawsuit creates a real predicament for “law and order conservatives” – one that may possibly deepen. Police unions and related pressure groups who regard “officer safety” as the highest public priority – what could be referred to as the “Blue Privilege Lobby” – could find themselves allied with advocates of new restrictions on individual firearms ownership.
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