Dawn Nguyen. AP photo.
Straw purchaser Dawn Nguyen. AP photo.

On December 24, 2012, William Spengler apparently murdered his sister in his home, and then set the house on fire as “bait” to draw in West Webster, NY firefighters, whom he then ambushed. Spengler fatally shot firefighters Tomasz Kaczowka and Michael Chiapperini. Firefighters Ted Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter were also shot, but survived. Spengler then traded fire with police before finally ultimately committing suicide with a handgun. Spengler had previously murdered his grandmother with a hammer in 1980, and couldn’t have purchased the guns legally.

The Bushmaster rifle and Mossberg shotgun used in the attack were quickly traced to Spengler’s neighbor, Dawn Nguyen, who confessed to purchasing the firearms. She was just sentenced Monday to the 1 1/3-4 year maximum sentence for straw-purchasing the weapons.

The families of the four firefighters and the Brady Campaign are now suing sporting goods retailer Gander Mountain, claiming that the store should have known that Nguyen was committing a straw purchase, essentially arguing that women never buy guns for themselves:

The suit spells out that gun buyer Dawn Nguyen entered Gander Mountain with Spengler, who was prohibited from owning firearms after a conviction for killing his 92-year-old grandmother with a hammer. Nguyen, Spengler’s neighbor, filled out the required state and federal forms identifying herself as the purchaser and paid $1,425 in cash for a semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun.

Gander Mountain’s staff should have known that the purchase was being made for someone who was barred from possessing firearms, the suit continued, pointing out that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has warned that indicators of a straw purchase include multiple firearms being bought in one transaction, more than one person entering the store together and purchases made with cash.

I used to work for sporting goods store selling firearms a number of years ago, and I’ve been in numerous gun shops before and since. I’ve been on both sides of the buying and selling equation.

While I’m not going to claim that my individual experiences are necessarily typical, I would say that in the course of selling firearms, probably almost half of those sold were to individual purchasers accompanied by another individual. Most frequently, that other person seemed to be a spouse or significant other, but other times, the situation was quite clearly an experienced gun owner attempting to help a friend make a wise purchasing decision. There is nothing suspicious in and off itself about multiple individuals coming into a store together.

In the interactions I can recall that specifically involving sales to women, they either came in and knew exactly what they wanted as individual purchasers and didn’t browse, or they came in with a “gun friend” to help them pick out a gun. In these instances, I paid more attention to the person who seemingly had a shopping list in their heads than the browsers, and I always tried to gently probe them to see of they raised any red flags. In these instances, it turned out that these targeted purchasers were shopping off a sales flyer and knew precisely which models were on sale.

The purchase of several firearms at the same time is slightly unusual but not alarming, and neither paying in cash nor shopping with someone else are remotely strange. Put bluntly, these aren’t significant things that would trigger me to suspect that a straw purchase might be about to occur.

Unless Brady is intentionally sitting on some sort of Perry Mason-grade bombshell, there simply isn’t a viable case here against Gander Mountain, and it seems somewhat absurd—and perhaps a bit sexist—for them to suggest that a woman wouldn’t want an AR-15 for herself, when they are among the most popular rifles purchased in recent years as women increasingly join the shooting sports.