Pa. Suit Targets Gun Dealer Liability

April 21, 2004

A civil lawsuit filed against a South Williamsport gun shop could be the first to go to court that would hold gun dealers accountable when criminals get their hands on guns, lawyers say.

In April 1999, 7-year-old Nafis Jefferson was fatally shot by another 7-year-old with a revolver they had found under an abandoned car in South Philadelphia.

Police never determined who put the gun under the car, but they learned it came from a gun shop in South Williamsport that sold it for $200 to a straw buyer who illegally resold it on the black market.

That sale and Jefferson’s death has spawned a lawsuit, scheduled for trial in July in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, that could break new ground in Pennsylvania in holding gun shop owners responsible for allegedly negligent and irresponsible sales practices, even when they have complied with state and federal laws.

Someone without a criminal record who can pass a computer background check can buy a pistol from a willing gun dealer in a matter of minutes and immediately resell the gun on the street.

Details of how easily it can be done are contained in the wrongful-death lawsuit that Nafis’ mother, Tennille Jefferson, filed against the gun dealer, Jon K. Sauers, owner of Sauers Trading in South Williamsport.

Jefferson’s lawyer, Mark J. LeWinter, who has been assisted in the suit by the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said gun-shop owners rarely are prosecuted for selling to straw purchasers. Civil lawsuits, he said, could be an alternative method for holding gun dealers accountable.

Jefferson contends Sauers “recklessly'” sold guns to a straw purchaser, creating a public danger. Sauers insists he did nothing wrong in selling the revolver that later killed Nafis.

The man who bought the gun, Perry J. Bruce, bought 10 similar small, easily concealed handguns from Sauers between 1994 and 1997. Bruce, of Williamsport, held a permit to carry a gun.

Each time he bought a gun, Bruce illegally resold it. The buyers were criminals who were barred from owning guns, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in its Sunday editions.

In October 1997, Bruce was charged by federal authorities in Williamsport with gun trafficking. He pleaded guilty in 1998 and was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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