Gary gun dealer target of Chicago lawsuit

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The city of Chicago filed a lawsuit Monday against Westforth Sports in Gary, alleging the retailer has “engaged in a pattern of illegal sales that has resulted in the flow of hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal firearms” across state lines and into the Windy City.

Filed in District 1 Court of Cook County, Illinois, the lawsuit, City of Chicago, v. Westforth Sports, Inc., 2021CH01987, is seeking unspecified sums of money that will “abate the nuisance” caused by the store and “fairly compensate” Chicago for the damages.

The complaint was filed by Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support fund, along with the city of Chicago Department of Law and the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP. This is the first civil lawsuit filed by Chicago against “a major source of crime guns” in more than two decades, according to a press release from Everytown Law.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her city is fighting the “tide of illegal guns flowing into our neighborhoods” in order to keep its streets safe.

“Time and time again, however, it has become even more clear that holding accountable all those who contribute to gun violence here, regardless of where they are located, is key to our ability to create a safer Chicago,” Lightfoot said in the press release. “This lawsuit is about addressing a major source of illegal guns recovered in our city and it should send an unmistakable signal about our commitment to reducing gun violence and stopping gun trafficking.”

The complaint names Westforth as one of the principal sources of illicit firearms for the Chicago criminal market. Between 2009 and 2013, Chicago police recovered and traced 515 crime guns sold by Westforth, making it the largest out-of-state supplier of crime guns. It retained that distinction between 2013 and 2016, accounting for another 341 crime guns.

Also, the complaint asserts that the retailer’s pattern of selling firearms to traffickers has continued unabated to the present day. A review of federal prosecutions from December 2014 to April 2021 for false statements on firearm transaction forms in the Northern District of Indiana, revealed that about 44% involved sales at Westforth.

According to the lawsuit, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has cited Westforth at least 39 separate times for violating federal laws and regulations.

Moreover, on at least two occasions, ATF regulators recommended the bureau revoke Westforth’s federal firearms license on the basis of “willful violations of the (Gun Control Act).” However, the lawsuit states the ATF management ultimately opted to conduct a warning conference in lieu of revocation.

The complaint provided a sampling of Westforth’s violations which includes a citation for failing to conduct a background check before transferring a firearm to a customer; multiple instances of transferring a gun to a straw purchaser after the straw purchaser’s association failed a background check; and repeated failure to report sales of multiple handguns.

In addition to monetary damages, the plaintiff is requesting Westforth submit to supervision of its sales practices and that it retain all trace requests received by the ATF. Chicago also wants Westforth to identify and assist in recovering the remaining firearms that were sold to or through transferees.

“The ATF has cited Westforth over and over again for violating federal gun regulations, including for selling to straw purchasers,” said Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation for Everytown Law. “ATF inspectors twice recommended that Westforth’s gun dealer license be revoked.  This lawsuit should be a wake-up call to ATF to take long-overdue action against Westforth to protect the public.”

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