BRADY CENTER TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE and ARNOLD & PORTER LLP
May 20, 2014 Contact: Jennifer Fuson jfuson [at] bradymail [dot] org 202-370-8128
New Lawsuit Filed by Families, Victims of Christmas Eve West Webster, NY Shooting Calls on Gander Mountain to Reform Firearm Business Practices and Seeks to Hold “Straw Purchasers” Accountable.
Rochester, NY – Gander Mountain should have known a 2010 purchase of an assault rifle used to kill two New York firefighters and injure two more on Christmas Eve, 2012 was an illegal “straw purchase,” according to a lawsuit filed today by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Arnold & Porter LLP.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the four West Webster firefighters and their families, asks Gander Mountain to reform its business practices and employee training procedures to help prevent unlawful firearm sales to prohibited gun purchasers and seeks to hold “straw purchasers” accountable.
According to the complaint, 22-year-old Dawn Nguyen entered Gander Mountain in 2010 with 61-year-old William Spengler, a convicted killer prohibited from owning firearms. They proceeded to purchase an assault rifle and a shotgun. Nguyen filled out the required state and federal forms identifying herself as the purchaser and handed over $1,500 in cash for the weapons. In 2012, Spengler set fire to his home, called 911, and ambushed the responding firefighters with the assault rifle that Nguyen “straw purchased.”
Nguyen, the “straw purchaser,” who was convicted of falsifying business records and sentenced to the maximum time allowable (1 1/3 to 4 years), is also named as a defendant along with Gander Mountain.
“On the morning of Christmas Eve 2012, our families should have been busy preparing for the holidays. Instead, we were mourning the tragic loss of two loved ones and praying for the survival and recovery of two others,” said the families of the firefighters in a joint statement on the filing of the lawsuit. “The facts suggest that the loss we have endured could have been avoided, if only the store had acted responsibly.”
“Gun dealers have a responsibility to ensure they are selling guns to people legally entitled to purchase them. Just like a bar has a responsibility not to sell alcohol to minors, Gander Mountain has a responsibility not to sell firearms to convicted criminals,” said Jonathan Lowy, Director, Brady Center’s Legal Action Project and co-counsel for the families and victims. “This lawsuit sends a message that gun dealers should be held accountable and not profit when their negligence contributes to the death and injury of innocent people.”
Michael Schissel, a partner at Arnold & Porter and co-counsel for the plaintiffs, commended the plaintiffs’ courage in bringing this action: “The victims and families continue to experience tremendous pain and loss on a daily basis. Nevertheless, they have found within themselves the resolve to fight for change in the way gun retailers train and supervise their employees and to hold straw buyers accountable, so that another horrific tragedy like this one might be avoided.”
The sale of multiple firearms in one purchase, more than one person entering the store together, and purchases made in cash are indicators of a possible straw purchase according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The complaint alleges that Gander Mountain knew or should have known of these indicators, knew or should have known that Nguyen was conducting an illegal "straw purchase," and should have taken steps to confirm that Spengler was the purchaser and intended user of the guns.
“We bring this case with the hope that something positive will come of this tragedy and that through legal action we can help prevent other families from suffering a similar fate,” added the families in their joint statement.
The lawsuit names Gander Mountain Company, Inc., Dawn Nguyen, and the Estate of William Spengler as defendants. The plaintiffs include Kimberly Chiapperini, widow of Michael Chiapperini; Marian and Janina Kaczowka, parents of Tomasz Kaczowka; Joseph Hofstetter; and Theodore and Karen Scardino.
Representing the plaintiffs are Michael Schissel, Lucy McMillan, Diana Reiter, Catherine Barnard, and Eric Lee, of Arnold & Porter LLP; Donald O’Brien of Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP in Rochester, NY; and Jonathan Lowy, Elizabeth Burke, and Alla Lefkowitz of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Legal Action Project.
- Read a copy of the complaint
- View the statement released by victims and families of the 2012 Christmas Eve
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