ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Attorney General Keith Ellison sued Fleet Farm on Wednesday, alleging the retailer negligently sold firearms to two straw buyers, including one gun that was used in a shootout in a St. Paul bar that left one person dead and 14 bystanders injured.
The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, alleges that Fleet Farm ignored multiple red flags that should have tipped off chain officials, including sales of multiple guns in single purchases. It alleges that Fleet Farm stores sold the two at least 37 firearms over a 16-month period. Most of the guns have not been recovered, Ellison said.
Ellison, a Democrat, is facing a stiff re-election challenge from Republican candidate Jim Schultz, who has made violent crime his top issue.
“We comply with all applicable gun laws and devote substantial resources to training and compliance,” countered Fleet Farm spokesman Jon Austin. He added that after the St. Paul shooting Ellison highlighted, “we were told by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that our team members had ‘done nothing wrong’ and had complied with all applicable gun laws.”
The Appleton, Wisconsin-based company has 47 stores across the Midwest, including 17 in Minnesota that sell firearms.
Straw buyers purchase firearms from licensed retailers and re-sell them to people who can’t legally buy them or on the black market.
The lawsuit asks for the court to order strengthened oversight over Fleet Farm’s sales practices, increased training for employees who sell guns and unspecified monetary damages.
The two straw buyers already have been convicted of federal crimes stemming from their purchases.