APPLETON – A lawsuit filed Wednesday by Minnesota’s attorney general contends Fleet Farm negligently sold firearms to straw purchasers, allowing guns to “get into the wrong hands.”
One gun that the company sold was used in a shooting last year at a St. Paul bar that killed a 27-year-old woman and left 14 other people injured, the complaint submitted in Hennepin County states. A 6-year-old boy found another firearm from Fleet Farm in front of his family’s home, which had likely been discarded by suspects fleeing another public shooting, according to the complaint.
“We strongly disagree with the Attorney General’s lawsuit,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement to The Appleton Post-Crescent on Thursday, and “are confident that we will prevail in this matter.”
Fleet Farm — which is based in Appleton, with stores across the upper Midwest — complies “with all applicable gun laws” and devotes “substantial resources to training and compliance,” according to the spokesperson.
“For the first time in Minnesota, I’m using the power of the Attorney General’s office to hold a gun retailer accountable using the tools of a civil lawsuit,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a news release Wednesday. “To any retailers like Fleet Farm that are turning a blind eye to straw purchasing and feeding gun trafficking and gun violence, you’re on notice.”
A “straw purchase” is when an item, often a firearm, is bought by one person on behalf of another who is legally unable to make the purchase themselves.
Fleet Farm “ignored hallmark red flags and warning signs that certain buyers were straw purchasers and sold guns to these buyers anyway, rather than refusing to make such sales as Fleet Farm should have done,” according to Ellison.
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Most of the guns that the company sold to straw purchasers have not been recovered, the release states.
“Gun dealers and retailers have a duty to be the first line of defense against people who try to illegally obtain guns and provide them directly to criminals or blindly resell them for profit on the black market,” Ellison said.
In the lawsuit, Ellison ask for “strengthened oversight of Fleet Farm’s operations and increased training to prevent sales of guns to straw purchasers.” The attorney general also wants Fleet Farm to give up its profits from sales to straw purchasers.