Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison sued Fleet Farm on Wednesday, alleging the firearms dealer contributed to gun trafficking by repeatedly selling guns to straw purchasers in Minnesota.
The lawsuit, filed in Hennepin County District Court, alleges Fleet Farm sold at least 37 firearms to two straw purchasers over the course of 16 months, despite red flags that some buyers were trafficking the guns to criminals and those otherwise prohibited from legally purchasing guns themselves.
The AG’s office alleges one of those firearms sold to a straw buyer at Fleet Farm later went on to be used in a deadly mass shooting at Seventh Street Truck Park in St. Paul.
“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 stated. "But instead of fulfilling their legal obligation to detect and prevent straw purchases, Fleet Farm ignored multiple red flags: they took money from straw purchasers and looked the other way."
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey joined Ellison at a press conference announcing the lawsuit Wednesday.
Another firearm allegedly sold to a straw purchaser at Fleet Farm was later recovered by a 6-year-old child, according to the suit. However, the majority of the guns sold to straw purchasers by Fleet Farm remain unaccounted for.
The lawsuit asserts claims against Fleet Farm for negligence, negligence per se, negligent entrustment, aiding and abetting, and public nuisance.
Ellison is seeking monetary damages, a strengthening of oversight of Fleet Farm's operations and an increase training to prevent firearm sales to straw purchasers.
The two straw buyers named in the lawsuit have been convicted of federal crimes related to the purchases.
"We strongly disagree with the Attorney General’s lawsuit," Feet Farm shared in a statement statement Wednesday. "We comply with all applicable gun laws and devote substantial resources to training and compliance. It is disappointing that Attorney General Ellison filed his complaint without ever once talking to us."
"It’s also worth noting that at the time of the tragic shooting in Saint Paul described in the Attorney General’s complaint, 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 statement continued. "We are confident we will prevail in this matter.
The Appleton, Wisconsin-based company operates 17 stores in Minnesota.