KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas City and a national gun safety advocacy group filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that several businesses and individuals trafficked firearms in the region while willfully ignoring evidence that the guns were being sold illegally.
The city was joined in the lawsuit by Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, a national gun safety advocacy group, which said it is the first such lawsuit filed against the gun industry in more than 10 years. The lawsuit alleges that the gun trafficking created a public nuisance in Kansas City, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the U.S.
Mayor Quenton Lucas said illegal gun trafficking has contributed to a surge in deaths and crime, and made residents feel less safe every day.
Kansas City recorded 148 homicides in 2019, a number that has increased every year since 2014, when there were 82. From June 2018 through May 2019, the city had a rate of 29.66 homicides per 100,000 people, which was a higher rate than cities such as Chicago and Washington, D.C. In December, the Justice Department announced that it will intensify federal law enforcement resources in seven cities, including Kansas City, in an effort to crack down on violent crime.
“We are going to take every avenue to make sure that we are ensuring that laws are enforced, our community is safe and that we are being creative to make sure Kansas Citians don't suffer for another generation, another epidemic of gun violence and gun crime," Lucas said.
The lawsuit targets a group that trafficked at least 77 firearms in the region between November 2013 and October 2018. Many of the guns were sold to felons and have been found at subsequent crime scenes while others have not been recovered, said Alla Lefkowitz, an attorney for Everytown Law who will help litigate the lawsuit.
James Samuels, a former Kansas City firefighter who has been charged in criminal court with several federal gun law violations, is named as the ringleader of scheme. The lawsuit also alleges that Nevada-based gun manufacturer Jimenez Arms, several local gun dealers and individuals illegally sold or transferred guns to Samuels without doing background checks or determining if the buyers had licenses to carry guns. The companies ignored obvious evidence that Samuels was breaking federal gun laws, according to the lawsuit.
"A gun trafficker cannot accomplish his work alone," Lefkowitz said. “He needs suppliers and straw buyers. He needs companies that are willing to look the other way and he needs individuals who are willing to lie for him. Unfortunately, Mr. Samuels was able to find a number of individuals and a number of companies. Companies who were willing to look the other way in the face of clear indicators of illegal gun trafficking. This case is about holding everyone who participated in illegal gun trafficking accountable."
Jimenez Arms did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
Lefkowitz said similar lawsuits have not been filed because the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act protects firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes are committed with their products. The federal law includes an exception for businesses that knowingly violate federal laws, which occurred in the Kansas City case, she said.
Samuels was charged in October 2018 with illegally selling numerous firearms to people he knew were felons. He has pleaded not guilty. In June, Samuels was sued by the parents of Alvino Dwight Crawford, who was killed in 2016, allegedly by one of the 77 firearms that Samuels trafficked in the Kansas City region. Everytown Law also filed that lawsuit, which is ongoing.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Jimenez and the three gun dealers to recover the guns that are possibly still in circulation; to follow comply with state and federal firearms laws; submit to five years of court supervision; to train employees; and post bond payments they could lose if they commit future violations.
The city is also seeking financial damages to reimburse the cost of emergency response and police services, legal expenses and other services and programs aimed at gun violence.