Minnesota Updates Lawsuit Over Retail Store's Gun Sales

AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File

There is a profound difference between a civil and criminal trial. For one thing, the burden of proof in a civil trial is much lower, meaning that if I sue you, I don't necessarily have to prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.


That's why I always get suspicious of people filing lawsuits on matters that sure sound criminal; things like lawsuits over supposed straw sales of firearms, for example.

In Minnesota, Attorney General Keith Ellison has apparently been suing a retail chain over their firearm sales. That lawsuit just got an update.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has updated a lawsuit against the Fleet Farm retail chain to include allegations that the retailer violated the state's gun control law by repeatedly selling firearms to "straw purchasers" who funneled the guns to felons barred from owning them.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Docherty last week allowed the state to amend its original lawsuit, first filed in 2022, to include the new charge after the Minnesota Supreme Court clarified the scope of Ellison's investigation and enforcement authority in a ruling in an unrelated case.

In a memo to the court, Assistant Attorney General Eric Maloney wrote that Fleet Farm violated the Minnesota Gun Control Act "by transferring firearms to straw purchasers Fleet Farm knew or had reason to know were buying firearms for others, because each of the straw buyers falsely represented that they were the actual buyer in connection with each individual sale."

Minnesota is now seeking civil penalties for each violation of the gun control act and the state's public nuisance statute. Penalties can range as high as $25,000 per violation. 


The new allegations join existing claims that Fleet Farm acted negligently.

Todd Noteboom, an attorney representing Fleet Farm, argued in filings that Ellison has not alleged that a Fleet Farm store ever failed to require a customer to complete federally required paperwork for firearm transactions, nor did it claim Fleet Farm sold any firearms without receiving the go-ahead from the FBI's background check system.

"In fact, plaintiff alleges nothing about Fleet Farm's firearm policies in either the operative complaint or the proposed amended complaint," Noteboom wrote. "Instead, plaintiff contends Fleet Farm should be held civilly liable for unspecified societal harms based on the unforeseeable criminal conduct that purportedly followed from firearm sales to two individuals: Sarah Elwood and Jerome Horton."


Those two individuals have already been convicted in a federal criminal case and both admit to deceiving Fleet Farm as to who exactly the gun was for. 

But Ellison's efforts here aren't really about wrongdoing. Someone broke the law and was punished for it. Anyone else breaking the law should be prosecuted if there's sufficient evidence for such a thing.

Only Ellison knows there isn't, so he's heading to civil court to try and punish Fleet Farm; not for failing to spot a straw purchase or anything of the sort, but for selling guns, and under the PLCAA, he's only got a handful of avenues he can take. Alleging wrongdoing for straw sales is one of those few.

He's also hoping that the burden of proof being lower will work in his favor since he knows that he can't convict anyone working at Fleet Farm for knowingly conducting a straw purchase. He can't show where anyone did anything wrong. He's just hoping anti-gun sentiment runs strongly enough in Minnesota that he can punish the chain harshly enough that it'll rethink gun sales.

That's all any of these lawsuits are about.

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