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AG Ellison's lawsuit alleges Fleet Farm negligently sold firearms that ended up trafficked

AG Ellison lawsuit alleges Fleet Farm stores were source of 37 straw gun purchases
AG Ellison lawsuit alleges Fleet Farm stores were source of 37 straw gun purchases 02:07

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Wednesday that his office has filed a complaint against Fleet Farm for, they claim, negligently selling firearms and other charges tied to gun trafficking.

Ellison -- along with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, and Richfield Mayor Maria Gonzales -- addressed the media as he filed the lawsuit in District Court.

Ellison says in selling close to 40 guns to two people in the span of a just few months, the company should have known they were being resold.

In one instance, Ellison says Fleet Farm sold 24 guns to one individual in a four-month span in 2021. Seven of these guns have been traced to crimes or suspected crimes, Ellison said.

Understanding how we got to this point takes going back almost exactly a year, to St. Paul's deadly Truck Park shooting in 2021. In that incident, a shootout between two men killed a woman and injured more than a dozen others. Investigators later learned the gun used in that crime was purchased through a straw purchase scheme, meaning someone bought it legally and then sold it to someone else illegally.

Ellison says a number of straw purchasers, including Sarah Elwood and Jerome Horton, have been arrested and charged. But Ellison took it a step further, bringing forward charges of negligence, aiding and abetting, and public nuisance against the Fleet Farm stores he said should have known better.

"Fleet Farm had a duty under the law to spot and stop this behavior. Nevertheless, Fleet Farm continued to engage in straw purchase transactions, even though they knew or should have known that these customers were not making legitimate purchases for themselves and likely to resell them illegally," Ellison said.

This lawsuit is filed in civil court, not criminal court.

Ellison is asking for an independent monitor for gun sales at Fleet Farm, stronger training for employees, and a complete refund on any profits the company made on those purchases.

Fleet Farm issued a statement on Wednesday:

We strongly disagree with the Attorney General's lawsuit. 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.

We are confident that we will prevail in this matter.

Ellison is running for re-election to the office, facing off against Republican candidate Jim Schultz. Crime is one of the biggest issues in the tight race. A September poll showed the candidates in a dead heat.

Schultz on Wednesday issued the following statement:

"Over four years Keith Ellison has been missing in action as gun violence has destroyed communities and taken countless lives. He even supported defunding police forces, which are the most important factor in reducing gun violence. But now in October of election year we are to believe he takes violent crime seriously. Another desperate effort by a cratering campaign."

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