‘Eye-popping numbers’: Chicago sues Indiana gun store tied to 850 firearms recovered from crime scenes

CHICAGO – The city of Chicago filed a lawsuit Monday against a northern Indiana gun store it claims is one of the main sources of illicit firearms for the city’s criminal market.

Westforth Sports, Inc. in Gary, Indiana, has “engaged in a pattern of illegal sales that has resulted in the flow of hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal firearms into the City of Chicago,” according to the lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The suit, filed with the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and the law firm Mayer Brown LLP, seeks “long overdue accountability” in the form of unspecified damages and an order requiring the store to cease practices contributing to gun trafficking.

“I’ve worked tirelessly to reduce violence to keep our streets safe,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement Monday. “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.”

Shootings rose nationwide last year amid the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout. In Chicago, Black and Latino neighborhoods bore the brunt of both epidemics. There were more than 3,200 shootings with more than 4,000 victims, according to Chicago police data.

While the city has previously reported more firearm-related homicides than any other U.S. city, Chicago consistently reports a lower gun homicide rate, per capita, than other cities like Detroit, New Orleans and St. Louis.

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over the Chicago City Council meeting at City Hall, Wednesday morning, April 21, 2021. Wednesday marked the first in-person council meeting since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago. (Photo: Ashlee Rezin Garcia, AP)

The lawsuit alleges Westforth Sports “feeds the market for illegal firearms by knowingly selling its products to an ever-changing roster of gun traffickers and straw (sham) purchasers who transport Westforth’s guns from Indiana into Chicago, where they are resold to individuals who cannot legally possess firearms, including convicted felons and drug traffickers.”

Westforth Sports did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the complaint, studies of firearms recovered by law enforcement between 2009 and 2016 “consistently rank Westforth as the highest out-of-state supplier of crime guns in the city, responsible for more than 850 recovered crime guns over this period.”

The lawsuit alleges that a review of federal prosecutions from December 2014 to April 2021 for illegal gun purchases in the Northern District of Indiana revealed approximately 44% of the cases involved sales at Westforth Sports. The documents, according to the lawsuit, show Westforth Sports is known to have sold at least 180 guns to at least 40 people later charged with federal crimes in connection with the purchases. 

One man, 24-year-old Darryl Ivery Jr., purchased 19 handguns from Westforth Sports over the course of seven months in 2020, according to the lawsuit. Ivery purchased ten guns in multiple sale transactions, and nine others at intervals designed to avoid federal reporting requirements. All but one was sold to buyers in Chicago, according to the lawsuit.

One gun sold to another buyer was recovered by Chicago police just a month after the purchase at Westforth, according to the lawsuit. In a separate incident, law enforcement recovered two guns just a day after Westforth sold them, according to the lawsuit. More than 40% of the Westforth crime guns recovered in Chicago between 2009 and 2016 had a time-to-crime of less than three years, according to the lawsuit.

“These eye-popping numbers are not the result of bad luck or coincidence or location,” the complaint says. “They are the natural and predictable outcome of a business model that ignores the federal laws and regulations that are intended to keep the public safe.”

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The majority of illegally used or possessed firearms recovered in Chicago are traced back to states with less regulation over firearms, such as Indiana and Mississippi, according to a 2017 city report. Indiana is the primary source for approximately one out of every five crime guns, the report found.

Alla Lefkowitz, director of affirmative litigation for Everytown Law, said the lawsuit “should be a wake-up call” to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to “take long-overdue action against Westforth to protect the public.”

“The ATF has cited Westforth over and over again for violating federal gun regulations, including for selling to straw purchasers. ATF inspectors twice recommended that Westforth’s gun dealer license be revoked,” Lefkowitz said in a statement. “When this many crime guns are traced back to a single dealer, it raises serious questions about how that dealer does business, and in this case you don’t have to look far for the answer.”

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