Protesters seek feds' review of store that sold gun killing Detroit officer

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Eastpointe — A Detroit City Council member and community leaders called Tuesday for a federal investigation into an Eastpointe gun shop that sold a gun used in last week's shooting death of a Detroit police officer in what federal officials have claimed was an illegal straw purchase. 

About 20 demonstrators rallied for gun reform in front of Action Impact Firearms and Training Center  on Eight Mile Road in Eastpointe. The gun used in death of  Detroit police Officer Loren Courts on Wednesday was purchased illegally at the Action Impact Firearms and Training Center.

Courts was shot by a suspect firing "indiscriminately" with an assault rifle while responding to a 911 call on the city's west side. Ehmani Davis, 19, who police said shot Courts, was killed by officers. 

Detroit Councilman Scott Benson speaks as demonstrators gather near Action Impact Firearms & Training Center on Tuesday.

On Sunday, U.S. attorney Dawn Ison charged Sheldon Avery Thomas for straw purchasing, a federal crime in which someone claims they are buying a gun for themselves when it is intended for someone who cannot legally purchase one.

Thomas allegedly purchased the semi-automatic pistol in June, then sold it to Davis for the original price of $1,200 plus a $50 fee. The maximum penalties for straw purchasing are $250,000 in fines and 10 years in prison. Action Impact Firearms and Training Center owner William Kucyk said  the shop has stopped selling the Draco pistol used in Courts' slaying and the similar Draco rifle at all locations.

The demonstrators called on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review the store's federal gun license and all previous sales of guns for crimes, including straw purchases.

"Is this just a one-off, or is this something that's a larger process that needs to be looked into?" said  Councilman Scott Benson, who organized the rally.

Benson emphasized the responsibilities that Action Impact and similar firearms businesses shoulder. "I need you to do your background check and do your due diligence," Benson said. "We can't stop everything. But once people know that you're watching, they may take a little more care."

Teferi Brent, a community leader and activist, said the community owes it to Courts and his wife and children to hold the businesses that sell "weapons of war" accountable.

"We have a problem with this business and every business like it," he said.

Kucyk said that transactions at his stores are conducted thoroughly and employees beyond what is required by law. He said his employees have likely prevented similar tragedies because of their attention to detail and their diligence. 

"It's tragic. I'm retired law enforcement, I bleed blue, so we're all hurting here," Kucyk said. "I don't want to educate the criminal, so when we decline gun sales, I don't tell the person why because then that would just train them to go to the next store."

Brent said that while the removal of Draco pistols and rifles from Action Impact's shelves is a victory, it is only a starting point. 

"It's because of his (Courts) transition, it's because of the life that he lived and unfortunately, the life that was taken from his family prematurely, that we are here today, which has led to that action," Brent said.

Protestors call for state, federal action

Protestors also demanded that state legislators strike laws preventing cities from regulating guns locally and called on federal politicians to ban assault weapons. 

Benson called for cities and municipalities to have more control over the selling of firearms within their borders. 

"You'd have a city that could say 'No, you're not allowed to sell assault weapons within our city borders' or 'You're not allowed to sell handguns,' " he said. "We can have a much greater level of say in what was sold in our municipalities."

Alkebu-lan Village founder and CEO Marvis Cofield speaks at a protest to urge stricter gun laws.

Community activist and minister Malik Shabazz said electing representatives who will change policies would help.

"We've got to change ... the codes, the policy, the laws," he said. "We need people in Lansing, in Washington that will fight for that."

Warren City Council member Angela Rogensues, who is running for Congress in Michigan's 10th district, attended the rally. She said people should demand more from elected officials when it comes to gun violence.

"We must do more. We must ensure that people can go to school, can go to the grocery store, can go to their place where they practice religion, without fear of being shot," she said. "We must do everything we possibly can do to protect the folks in law enforcement who are going out and fighting these battles every single day."

Harrison Township resident Gordon Farhat attended the rally and said he identifies as a conservative Republican. While he believes in the right to bear arms, Farhat said the use of assault rifles is getting "out of control," and called for stricter punishment for illegal gun possession.

"You just have common sense laws," Farhat said. "You get caught with an illegal gun, you should be in prison. You shouldn't get out within hours."

Community mourns Courts

Several community activists who attended the rally had worked with Courts in community outreach efforts with the Detroit Police Department.

Darryl Woods, an organizer with the Better Together initiative to bridge the gap between citizens and the police, said Courts was very involved in community work. 

"This is a very big, very somber moment," he said. "It is a heartbreaking moment for us, and a heartbreaking moment for the city of Detroit."

Shabazz said he also worked with Courts, who helped him distribute Crime Stoppers flyers around the community.

"Loren Courts was assigned to be with us out the street several times and he always acted like he enjoyed it. He acted like he cared. He acted like this is what he wanted, the community and the police coming together," Shabazz said. "That is my experience with him as an honorable, caring, constitutional police officer."

During Detroit City Council's formal session Tuesday morning, President Mary Sheffield requested a moment of silence for Courts. 

"He leaves behind a wife of 11 years, two children, because Officer Courts made the ultimate sacrifice for the city of Detroit," said Sheffield, adding her office will be attending his funeral set for Monday

"He set out to protect and serve, and we are humbled by his bravery and his heroism."

The department's Second Deputy Chief Kyra Joy Hope said police cannot combat gun violence in the city alone. 

Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, left, and Minister Malik Shabazz chant in protest near Action Impact Firearms & Training Center in Eastpointe on Tuesday.

"We don't all stand together when we're trying to be proactive about the things we need to be doing," she said. "Be a part of the solution and not the problem."

Gwen Parks, a Detroit native, said she has been personally affected by gun violence in the city and attended the rally to get guns off the street. 

"My grandkids lost their mother back in January this year to gun violence. Killed by a gun, shot to death." "Protect our children, protect the officers, protect people who are trying to protect us."

Benson emphasized the rippling effects of gun violence, with the families and colleagues of not only Courts permanently changed, but those of Thomas and Davis as well. 

"All because of an assault weapon being sold legally, that's an oxymoron," he said.