Back in April of 2021, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit with the help of Everytown’s in-house law firm against Indiana firearm retailer Westforth Sports claiming the gun shop was facilitating crime in the Windy City by turning a blind eye to straw purchases and allowing criminals to traffic guns from Gary, Indiana across the state line into the Chicago city limits.
As part of their “evidence”, the city and anti-gun attorneys noted that between 2013 and 2016, a little more than 2% of all firearms seized and recovered by the Chicago police were originally sold at retail at Westforth Sports. Given that not all firearms recovered were used in a crime, it’s a little specious to argue that the small fraction of firearms traced back to Westforth Sports is an indication of unlawful behavior on the part of the gun store, especially given that the store is still subject to ATF inspections and is clearly on the agency’s radar given the number of straw purchase prosecutions that have taken place after guns were either sold or attempted to be purchased over the past few years, but as it turns out the dismissal of the case didn’t hinge on the number of recovered firearms.
In fact, a Cook County judge never had to reach the merits of Chicago and Everytown’s arguments, and instead dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the county did not have jurisdiction in the matter, which would seem to be a pretty basic legal mistake on the part of Everytown’s attorneys.
In a statement issued after Quish’s ruling, Westforth attorney Timothy Rudd said “the Court properly found that Constitutional due process does not allow an out-of-state firearms retailer to be hauled into court in Illinois unless the claims against it arise out of or relate to the retailer’s own contacts with the state.”
The city was represented by attorneys from Everytown Law, Mayer Brown LLP and the city’s Law Department.
Alla Lefkowitz, Everytown Law’s senior director of affirmative litigation, said that during discovery, the city “found significant additional evidence of wrongdoing by Westforth that is specifically targeted at Illinois.”
“The City has not yet had an opportunity to review the decision, but fully intends to press on with its case against Westforth after studying the Court’s ruling and deciding on the best path forward,” Lefkowitz said in a statement.
I suspect that the reason this was filed in Cook County instead of in federal court is that Chicago and Everytown were looking for a friendly venue to sue Westforth Sports into oblivion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they roll the dice and keep the case in state court in the hopes that the Democrat-packed Illinois Supreme Court will find in their favor. The other option would be re-filing the case in federal court in Illinois, but the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act would seem to preclude any civil litigation that seeks to hold the gun store responsible for the acts of criminals.
Honestly, if Chicago wants to sue anyone over the alleged violations of law at Westforth Sports, it should be the ATF. According to a report by the Bloomberg-funded and anti-gun website The Trace (which gets some of its funding from Everytown Law itself), the ATF found repeated problems during inspections of the shop but repeatedly declined to revoke the store’s license.
In eight inspections between 1989 and 2011, investigators found the same problem: Westforth routinely failed to accurately record sales, a serious violation of federal law and a red flag for gun trafficking. With each infraction, investigators issued a warning, and owner Earl Westforth promised to clean up his act.
The agency’s patience appeared to wear out in 2012. After again finding evidence of unrecorded sales, they recommended revoking Westforth’s license. ATF higher-ups concurred.
But the agency never followed through, according to records. The bureau’s upper brass delayed enforcing the revocation, citing an “open [criminal enforcement] investigation.” A year later, they decided to close the inspection without penalty so the agency could reinspect for “more timely compliance results.”
A subsequent 2013 inspection turned up the same violations as before, plus multiple straw sales and knowingly falsified sales logs. Inspectors again recommended revoking Westforth’s license. But the director of industry operations for the agency’s Columbus Field Division, who had final say on the inspection, downgraded the penalty to a warning. The director noted that Westforth was a “very large dealer” and that its straw purchases were processed by separate employees.
In the next three years, more than 340 guns from Westforth wound up at Chicago crime scenes. Westforth Sports did not respond to a request for comment.
In light of ATF inaction, the city of Chicago has attempted to force accountability through the courts. Last April, it sued Westforth Sports, alleging the store supplied more than 850 guns used in city crimes between 2009 and 2016. The lawsuit details sales made to 11 people later convicted of gun trafficking — sales the city lawyers say Westforth should have recognized as suspicious.
“It shows despite Westforth’s knowing about these issues and repeatedly being told about them, they continued the same practices time and time again,” said Stephen Kane, an attorney in the city of Chicago’s law department who is representing the city in their suit against Westforth. “They’re not acting like a responsible gun dealer.”
If that’s actually the case (and that’s a pretty big “if”) then the ATF wasn’t acting responsibly either. It sounds to me like the violations were mostly paperwork errors and there was little-to-no evidence of any intentional wrongdoing or willful violations of the law on the part of the gun shop, especially since the store owner or employees have never faced any type of criminal charge in connection with a straw purchase.
Since Everytown Law has almost unlimited funds at their disposal and Chicago politicians would rather blame states like Indiana for their home-grown culture of criminality, I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of this effort to put Westforth Sports out of business. At this point the strategy may be to bleed the company dry by forcing them to defend themselves in a prolonged and expensive court fight. Let’s hope whatever the next venue for this lawsuit is, a judge will swiftly decide in Westforth’s favor and put a stop to this junk lawsuit.