In 2009, under-aged 18-year old Julius Burton went to Badger Guns, a gun store in Milwaukee Wisconsin, with 21-year-old acquaintance Jacob Collins to have the Collins purchase a semi-automatic pistol. The store clerk is recorded on store surveillance helping the two complete the required paperwork to purchase the firearm so that it would appear Collins was the legal purchaser. A month later, Burton shot and severely injured two police officers with the weapon. He was criminally convicted of the shooting and is now serving 80 years in prison. The officers and the city of Milwaukee filed a civil suit against the store arguing that the store clerk knew or should have known the sale to be illegal.
In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act shielding licensed firearms manufacturers, distributors, and retail dealers from liability if the guns sold were used in a criminal act. However, this case and others across the country are part of a wave of new lawsuits that invoke exceptions to the immunity law in cases where the gun seller knowingly violated a federal law in the sale of the gun or committed negligent entrustment. In two articles, “Trial in Wisconsin Tests Gun Store’s Judgment on Illegal Sales” in the New York Times, and “Wisconsin Jury Weighs Gun Dealer’s Role in Officers’ Shooting” in the Boston Globe, Professor Timothy Lytton describes the potential impact on litigation against gun dealers if the jury in Milwaukee finds for the plaintiffs: “It may well embolden more plaintiffs to bring lawsuits,” he said, “and give new momentum to a litigation campaign that looked all but dead after 2005.”
Lytton is interviewed about this case and provides overview of the history and current context of lawsuits against the gun industry on HuffPost Live (view the video beginning at 12:00 through 17:30).
Timothy D. Lytton is a Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Georgia State University College of Law with expertise in the public policy implications of tort litigation. He is the editor of Suing the Gun Industry: A Battle at the Crossroads of Gun Control and Mass Torts (2005).