A lawsuit was filed Tuesday in New York against St. Paul-based Gander Mountain. The suit, filed on the plaintiffs' behalf by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, claims the store should have realized a woman was making a "straw purchase" for a convicted felon who went on to kill two people and himself.
The Associated Press reports that William Spengler Jr., 61, used the semi-automatic rifle in a 2012 Christmas Eve ambush shooting that left two Rochester, N.Y. volunteer firefighters dead and two other firefighters wounded. The weapon was purchased at a Gander Mountain store by Spengler's neighbor Dawn Nguyen, who was 22 at the time. Spengler, who couldn't buy the gun because of his criminal record, accompanied Nguyen to the store.
Gander Mountain spokesman Jess Myers said, “We are just hearing about it this morning and have not gotten a great deal of information or had an opportunity to review it, so Gander Mountain has nothing to say on the matter at this point.”
The Star Tribune said the lawsuit seeks to have Gander Mountain reform its practices and employee training procedures to prevent these “straw purchasers.” Filed Tuesday in state court in Rochester, N.Y. on behalf of four families, the suit also seeks punitive and compensatory damages.
Warning signs included the sale of more than one gun at a time, more than one person entering the store together and purchases made in cash, according to the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. The newspaper said all three signs came into play when Nguyen bought the guns, according to testimony in her trial. A former store clerk at Gander Mountain testified that Nguyen came in with a man whom prosecutors identified as Spengler and purchased a .223-caliber semiautomatic rifle and a pistol-grip 12-gauge shotgun for $1,425 in cash.
Attorney Michael Schissel said the store clerk should have asked Nguyen what she planned to do with the guns, if she knew how to use them and why she was paying cash. The store should not have gone through with the sale, he said. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has warned that those are indicators of a straw purchase.
In a joint statement, the families said they first thought the four had been shot in “another random act of violence … But as time went by, new and very troubling facts emerged. These facts suggest that the loss we have endured could have been avoided. If only the store had acted responsibly.” The statement added that while the families support the constitutional rights of gun owners and “some of us, in fact, own guns …we also believe that companies who make it their business to sell guns must do so in a responsible and lawful manner."
On Monday, Nguyen, 25, was sentenced to up to four years in prison for lying on forms when she bought the guns. She still faces federal charges for illegally purchasing the firearms and selling them to a known felon. Spengler was prohibited from owning firearms after a conviction for killing his 92-year-old grandmother with a hammer.