The suit alleges Westforth Sports Inc. repeatedly broke federal gun laws and ignored clear signs of straw purchases and gun trafficking.
GARY, Ind. — The city of Chicago filed its first civil lawsuit against an Indiana gun store connected to more than 850 guns used in crimes in the city.
The suit alleges Westforth Sports Inc. repeatedly broke federal gun laws and ignored clear signs of straw purchases and gun trafficking. A straw purchase is when someone purchases a gun for someone else who is unable to legally. If the store is aware of that, there are potential legal repercussions.
The complaint cites years of audits by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, allegedly showing repeat violations, warnings, and two recommendations for revocation of Westforth Sports Inc.’s license to sell guns. It also points to court records showing more than 40 federal criminal prosecutions for illegal gun purchases in the Northern District of Indiana — where Westforth is located — involved guns sold by Westforth between 2014 and 2021.
According to the lawsuit, Chicago is seeking “to stop practices believed to be contributing to gun trafficking and gun violence in the City, as well as damages for the harm caused by Westforth’s actions.”
“The City of Chicago is serious about reducing and eliminating violence of all kinds, which is why we’re fighting the tide of illegal guns flowing into our neighborhoods,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. “As Mayor, I’ve worked tirelessly to reduce violence to keep our 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. 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.”
Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, a nonprofit organization, joined the City of Chicago in the lawsuit. The suit also alleges “Westforth chose time and time again to look the other way and to falsify transaction forms” when it saw “high volume, repetitive, and multiple-sale transactions involving duplicate or near-duplicate firearms.”
Examples given include:
- Over the course of seven months in 2020, one buyer is alleged to have purchased 19 handguns from Westforth, including ten guns bought in multiple-sale transactions, and nine others bought at intervals designed to avoid federal reporting requirements. With the exception of one gun that the buyer kept for himself, each of these guns were transferred to persons in Chicago. The buyer has since been charged criminally with making false statements in connection with his gun purchases at Westforth.
- Another buyer is alleged to have bought six handguns from Westforth in the spring of 2020, including three identical Taurus handguns and a pair of identical Smith & Wesson handguns. The complaint alleges that these duplicative multiple-sale transactions were unmistakable warning signs of straw purchasing, which Westforth ignored. One of the guns that Westforth sold to this buyer was recovered by the Chicago Police just over a month later, and the rest are believed to remain on the streets. In December 2020, this buyer pleaded guilty to a federal crime in connection with her purchases at Westforth.
- Another buyer visited Westforth in May 2018 and is alleged to have bought five Glock handguns — including two duplicate and near-duplicate pairs — in a single purchase. The complaint alleges that this suspicious bulk purchase of handguns was highly indicative of trafficking, and the buyer was indeed a trafficker. Just a day after Westforth sold these guns, two of them were recovered by law enforcement in Chicago during an altercation. One had been outfitted with a laser sight. This buyer has since been charged criminally with making false statements in connection with his gun purchases at Westforth.
Westforth Sports Inc. told 13News the owner was just reviewing the complaint, and was not at a point where he would be able to issue a response.
“The suit raises the question ‘shouldn’t you have known that these were going to be used for illegal purposes?’” said IU professor Paul Helmke, a gun law advocate and former mayor of Fort Wayne.
Helmke says while this case is against one dealer, it also highlights a common problem.
“There are a number of gun dealers in the Midwest and around the country that basically are doing everything they can to get more guns in more hands of more people and they don’t care who is getting them and how they are going to be used and if they are going to be used for illegal purposes,” said Helmke. “All they want to do is turn the profit.”
The lawsuit notes more than 40 federal criminal prosecutions for illegal gun purchases involving Westforth have been brought in the Northern District of Indiana since 2014. It contends one of the most egregious is the case of Darryl Ivery Jr., 24, who was charged with federal gun offenses last year. Several of the guns eventually turned up on Chicago’s streets, according to the lawsuit. In one instance, a gun Ivery bought was found at the scene of a shooting in Chicago just 22 days later. Others were found at crime scenes less than a week after Ivery purchased them. Many of them are still believed to be “in circulation” on the streets.
Citing court records, the lawsuit contends Westforth sold Ivery 19 handguns over 14 separate transactions between February and August 2020. During several visits, he purchased multiple firearms at a time.