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News / Northwest

Washington AG files lawsuit against Kelso gun store for alleged illegal sales

By Ellen Dennis, The Spokesman-Review
Published: September 13, 2023, 10:42am

Spokane — The Washington attorney general is suing a Cowlitz County gun shop for allegedly breaking state law in offering thousands of high-capacity magazines for sale.

Gators Custom Guns in Kelso, Washington, has reportedly continued to sell illegal assault rifle magazines to the public, despite a state law passed in 2022 that banned the distribution of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Tuesday filed a 12-page consumer protection complaint against Gators and shop owner Walter Wentz in Cowlitz County Superior Court. The court document details a lengthy sweep by the state of nearly 90 gun shops across Washington to check that retailers were complying with the high-capacity magazine ban. The “vast majority” of stores appeared to comply with the ban, the complaint says.

Gators, on the other hand, showed a “brazen, defiant and egregious violation of laws” with their inventory of more than 11,000 high-capacity magazines, the state alleges.

When state investigators stopped in at Gators, they reportedly saw several barrels containing hundreds of high-capacity magazines for sale, the largest collection they’d encountered since the ban took effect.

In May, Gators sold a total of five illegal high-capacity magazines to investigators on two occasions, the complaint alleges, including magazines with the capacity to hold 40 rounds, compatible with both handguns and assault-style weapons such as the AR-15.

“Gators owner Wentz himself transacted the second sale,” reads the legal complaint.

The court document also contain photos investigators took inside the gun store depicting rows of barrels and boxes full of high-capacity magazines for sale.

The sign on one barrel reads:

“AK-47 MAGAZINES

30RD

12.99 +TAX.”

Wentz declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, adding that he might comment on the case in the future. Wentz deferred to the litigation team at Silent Majority Foundation, a nonprofit with a self-described mission of protecting “our God given constitutional rights.”

Silent Majority Foundation director Rob Waltz told The Spokesman-Review that his organization had yet to decide whether it will represent Gators in the lawsuit filed Monday, but that the organization worked with Wentz on an “unrelated” case that Waltz declined to provide information on.

Gators opened its doors in 2010. Wentz, of Castle Rock, is the only registered owner of the store.

The Gators case is the second lawsuit filed by the government agency since the 2022 ban of high-capacity magazines.

In 2022, Ferguson filed suit against Federal Way Discount Guns for selling high-capacity magazines. One month later, a King County judge issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the shop from selling high-capacity magazines. The Federal Way store and owner Reza Baghai were held in contempt of court for reportedly continuing to sell the high-capacity magazines.

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A superior court judge ruled in April that Federal Way Discount Guns violated the state Consumer Protection Act.

The legal complaint filed against Gators seeks civil penalties for every violation of the Consumer Protection Act. Under state law, the maximum penalty is $7,500 every time a retailer has sold or offered to sell a high-capacity magazine.

State attorney general’s office spokesperson Brionna Aho said the lawsuit was not intended to assert the store sold all 11,000 illegal magazines, but that the state confirmed the gun shop had that quantity in their inventory.

“We don’t have the exact figure of how many of those were actually sold,” Aho said. “We’ll continue to look into that as the case moves forward. To be clear, offering to sell them is still in violation of the legislation. It’s illegal to have a big shelf of magazines for sale.”

Since 1980, high-capacity gun magazines have been used in at least 85 shootings in the United States, causing 791 deaths and more than 1,100 injuries. The number of children killed by gunfire in the United States increased 50% between 2019 and 2021. Black children in 2021 were five times more likely to die in a mass shooting than white children. Gun shootings are the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States today.

Tuesday’s legal complaint pointed to recent national mass shootings, as well as Washington state’s own bleak history with gun violence.

“Unfortunately, mass shootings continue, as does the use of weapons equipped with (large-capacity magazines) to reign terror upon our communities, including three this year alone — Monterey Park, Nashville, and Allen,” reads the complaint. “Washington State is no stranger to these terrible events, as evidenced by mass shootings in recent years in Mukilteo and Burlington.”

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