Chiapperini v. Gander Mountain
At 5:30 AM on December 24, 2012, convicted felon William Spengler, 61, set fire to his home on Lake Ontario in Webster, NY, called 911, and took up a sniper’s position to ambush the firefighters who responded. Before ultimately killing himself, Spengler shot and killed 43-year-old Michael Chiapperini, a police officer and father of three, and 19-year-old Tomas Kaczowka; their colleagues Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter were wounded.
Spengler had spent 17 years in prison for a manslaughter conviction and was prohibited from owning guns, but was able to obtain the assault weapon he used to kill and injure the firefighters through a straw purchase. On June 6, 2010, Spengler accompanied his 22-year-old neighbor Dawn Nguyen to the Henrietta, NY location of Gander Mountain, a popular nationwide outdoor retailer, where he picked out and had her purchase a Mossberg Model 500 12-gauge shotgun and a Bushmaster XM-15 .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle, which Spengler used to shoot the firefighters.
Nguyen initially claimed that she had purchased the guns for self-defense but that they had been stolen; she ultimately admitted that she had purchased the guns for Spengler, who had also left a suicide note confirming that he had asked a neighbor’s daughter to buy the guns. Nguyen was convicted of conducting the straw purchase, and sentenced to the maximum 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison on the state charges in May 2014; she has also pled guilty to the federal charges, and will be sentenced September 17, 2014.
The Brady Center and the firm Arnold & Porter LLP filed suit against Gander Mountain for the families and victims of the shooting on May 20, 2014. The lawsuit alleges that Gander Mountain knew or should have known that the sale of guns to Nguyen was a straw purchase, based on several key indicators that ATF has flagged as warning signs, including the sale of multiple firearms in one purchase, more than one person entering the store together, and the fact that the $1600 sale was made in cash. The suit argues that Gander Mountain should have taken steps to determine the true purchaser of the guns, and seeks an order requiring Gander Mountain to reform its business practices to prevent illegal sales.
At the end of 2014, the judge denied defendant's motion to dismiss, permitting all of the plaintiffs claims to go forward. The case is currently in discovery.
Co-counsel for the plaintiffs with the Brady Center are Michael Schissel and a team from Arnold & Porter LLP in New York City, and Donald O’Brien of Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP in Rochester, NY
Read the press release announcing the filing of the suit: Gander Mountain Has a Responsibility to Prevent Illegal “Straw” Gun Purchases.