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Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

Bad Neighbors

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When a licensed business such as a bar or a rock venue annoys its neighbors with loud noise or bad behavior, there is a long-standing history of police and politicians bringing pressure to shut down that business.

Should we expect anything less when a business leaves its neighbors dead in the street?

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Police Chief Edward Flynn and District Attorney John Chisholm have launched an aggressive campaign against Badger Guns, the West Milwaukee gun store across the city border that has sold one-third of the guns traced from crimes in Milwaukee over the last four years.

That includes all of the guns used to wound six Milwaukee police officers in the last two years, which is why Milwaukee police are taking it personally.

Badger is not only the leading licensed supplier of crime guns in Wisconsin, it had the distinction of being No. 1 in the nation in selling deadly weapons connected to crimes when the federal government last released data in 2005.

There’s no reason to believe Badger has surrendered its bloodstained crown since, but Congress, as usual caving to political pressure from the National Rifle Association, ordered the Justice Department to stop releasing the information.

In a gun-happy state, no other gun store comes remotely close to Badger in providing guns to murder, wound and rob citizens. The Shooters Shop in West Allis, just as accessible to Milwaukee residents, came in second, selling less than 3% of the guns traced from crimes over the same four-year period.

Badger has been a bad neighbor for a long time, but Flynn, a year and a half after arriving in town, has seen enough.

“I had an ‘enough-is-enough’ moment,” Flynn said. “They know to whom they are selling, they know what is happening with their product, they know citizens in Milwaukee are dying, and they don’t care.”

The first reaction of Adam Allan, the owner of Badger Guns, to being called out by Milwaukee law enforcement officials was to accuse Milwaukee police of racism for a concerted action of stopping customers traveling back to Milwaukee after leaving Allan’s store.

Over two-and-a-half months, Milwaukee police seized 12 guns from felons and others leaving the store. They arrested nine felons for illegally possessing guns and seven for carrying concealed weapons. Undercover officers also observed felons, who cannot legally possess or use firearms, practicing their shooting skills on Badger’s firing range.

The question for West Milwaukee village officials is why they have never shown the same concern as Milwaukee officials about how a licensed business in their community is being operated.

Allan, a longtime employee of Badger, became the owner in 2007, two years after the store was identified as the biggest seller of crime guns in the United States.

Transfer of ownership usually provides an opportunity for local police and political leaders to challenge the licensing of a business associated with lawless behavior—when they care.

If West Milwaukee police were being shot and West Milwaukee citizens were being murdered and robbed with the hundreds of crime guns flowing out of Badger Guns, West Milwaukee certainly would have found a way to close down the store by now.

More Excuses

Allan’s explanation of why felons are allowed to practice their aim on his shooting range is that the law doesn’t require him to check the criminal records of those using the range.

Allan says he operates his business within the law. That says more about how full of holes gun laws are in this country than how a responsible businessman should conduct himself.

Allan sounds like Eric Thompson, the Green Bay, Wis., gun dealer who’s sold guns and accessories over the Internet to three mass murderers—Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech in 2007; Steven Kazmierczak, who killed five people and himself at Northern Illinois University in 2008; and George Sodini, who killed three women and himself at a Pittsburgh fitness center in 2009.

Thompson and Allan say their businesses violate no laws. But just because irresponsible business practices are legal doesn’t mean they’re right or decent.

Providing guns to shoot police officers or children playing in their yards is not the sort of business respectable citizens should want in their communities.

Allan says there are no laws preventing him from selling deadly weapons to individuals who use them in violent crimes or act as straw buyers for murderers. But there also are no laws preventing a reputable businessman from refusing to sell a gun to anyone.

At the very least, Badger Guns should do the same customer screening as every other gun store that provides a tiny fraction of guns used in crimes compared to Badger.

Communities shut down bars after a couple of shooting incidents. Surely, something can be done about a bad neighbor like Badger Guns that is responsible for hundreds of homicides and shootings.


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