On Aug. 2, 2006, a man walked into Rayco Sales gun shop in Juneau and asked to look at a .22 caliber rifle. The store owner, Ray Coxe, and the man examined and talked about the gun together, and Coxe gave the man a quote — $195.
The man didn’t buy the gun and picked up his backpack as if to leave the store. When Coxe walked into the back of the store, the man, later identified as Jason Coday, took the rifle and left two $100 bills on the counter.
Two days later, the man used the rifle to murder a 26-year-old man working at the Juneau Fred Meyer whom he had never met before in an unprovoked attack. It was Juneau’s first murder in five years.
Was it an illegal sale off the books? The question now goes before the Alaska Supreme Court. Or rather, the question of whether that should be a question for a jury to decide now goes before the Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the matter were held last week in Juneau.
Jonathan Lowy with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., who is co-counsel with Mark Choate on behalf of the family of the murdered Simone Young Kim, argued that Coxe sells guns off the books then later claims that they are missing. Lowy said a previous audit of Rayco Sales found 200 guns missing from the inventory.
“To put that in context, 90 percent of gun dealers have zero guns missing from inventory,” Lowy said. “ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), they looked at the worst of the worst as far as gun dealers in this country. Out of 800,000 gun dealers, they found 16 in the entire nation who had that sort of total.”
Kim’s family originally filed the civil lawsuit seeking damages for $100,000 for the wrongful death of Kim, a painting contractor from Anchorage who was working on the Fred Meyer remodeling project at the time of his death. The family sued Coxe for knowingly violating gun laws by illegally selling the gun to the killer, Jason Coday, and for negligence.
Lowy went on to say in court and in written briefs that two firearms and security experts testified that the guns were likely sold off the books; that ATF found Coxe violated gun laws several times in the past, including disposing of firearms with no record of sale as required by federal law; that Coxe’s own employees expressed concerns to Coxe that it was too easy for someone to steal a gun from the store; and that when four guns were reported missing in rapid succession in 1993, the Juneau Police Department gave Coxe a verbal warning to increase security on his guns.
On top of that, Lowy argues, Coxe’s story is inconsistent, and that there are contradictions in his sworn testimony. For example, Lowy lists, Coxe put forth that the reason he left the future killer Jason Coday unattended in his store is because the store was busy at the time. That’s not true, Lowy said.
“He was the only one there, there was nobody else in the store,” Lowy said. “So not only is that an essential contradiction, but it cuts out the entire logic of Coxe’s story.”
Coxe’s attorney Anthony Sholty said that Coxe had thought Coday had left the store, as indicated by Coday picking up his backpack to leave.
“This transaction is over as far as Mr. Coxe knows,” Sholty said. “...As far as he knew, Mr. Coday was leaving and that was the end of it.”
Sholty called the family’s claims of an illegal sale “purely speculative,” and noted that the trial court judge agreed.
“I think the key point is, can you reasonably infer from the fact that $200 is left on the counter of the gun case display that Mr. Coxe was selling this rifle to Mr. Coday in an illegal fashion? I just don’t think you can infer that because there are a lot of other possibilities just as likely,” Sholty told the court, adding, “There are a number of possibilities for why Mr. Coday put the $200 on the counter, and frankly they’re all speculation.”
A trial court judge had agreed with Sholty that the Kim family’s claim of an illegal sale was based on “unsupported assumptions and speculation” and that it could not overcome Coxe’s sworn testimony. The judge granted a summary judgment, which dismissed the case without it going to a jury.
Sholty said, “It’s not a question of whether Mr. Coday obtained the rifle as a result of Mr. Coxe’s negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment because there was no genuine factual issue about how Jason Coday obtained the rifle from Rayco Sales — he stole it or he took it without Mr. Coxe’s knowledge or permission, and it doesn’t really make a difference how you want to describe it either way. The result should be the same.”
Coxe could not be reached for comment this week.
Factual disputes aside, a bigger-picture issue looming before the state supreme court is whether a federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) is constitutional.
The trial judge had issued his ruling based on Sholty’s argument that the Kim family’s lawsuit was barred under PLCAA. PLCAA prohibits lawsuits against sellers of firearms for harm caused by the misuse of a firearm, though there are some exceptions.
Every appellate court to ever consider the matter has ruled that it is constitutional. Still, Lowy and Choate want the Alaska Supreme Court to consider it, and it would be the first state supreme court to do so.
Lowy describes PLCAA as federal gun industry shield law that’s preventing the Kim’s case from being heard under Alaska law.
“The Kim family, they’re entitled to their day in court, the same justice under the law as everybody else in Alaska,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s outrageous that Ray Coxe wrongfully supplied a crazed criminal with a gun that he should get special protection from the law that you or I or any other small business person in Alaska gets. He’s the last person that deserves special immunity and Congress did not want to give special immunity to people who profited off of supplying criminals.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.