N.Y. Takes Aim at Gun Makers With Public Nuisance Lawsuit
New York on Monday became the first state in the nation to sue the firearms industry, claiming that its manufacturing and distribution practices routinely channel handguns to criminals.
Unlike the 32 suits filed by cities and counties--most of which claimed negligence on the part of gun makers--the state’s case focuses on a provision of New York law that defines illegally possessed handguns as a public nuisance.
During a news conference announcing the suit, state officials proposed remedies that could be implemented if the defendants are found guilty.
They included banning those guns most frequently used to commit crimes; stopping companies from supplying retailers that have a record of selling to criminals; and forcing manufacturers to buy back illegally obtained guns seized after the commission of a crime.
Makers Market Guns to Criminals, Suit Says
“For more than a year, we sought to achieve reasonable reforms through negotiations with the gun industry,” said New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer.
“It is now clear that most manufacturers and wholesalers are unwilling to give up the profits they reap from selling guns into the criminal market.”
“New York’s lawsuit is an important step that increases the pressure on irresponsible gun makers and distributors to agree to reforms that will prevent needless deaths and injuries,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said during the news conference.
The suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, charges nine gun manufacturers, three importers and a dozen wholesalers with contributing to and maintaining a public nuisance through their business practices.
It alleges that the gun makers “design, produce, market and distribute handguns in a way they know supplies unlawful demand for such guns.”
The manufacturers, the state claims, know through repeated inquiries by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms which gun models are “particularly attractive to criminals.”
Similarly, through ATF traces of guns used in crimes, wholesalers know that certain retailers are selling guns into criminal channels.
“Because they know both the make and model of each gun that ATF traces through them and the total number of those models that they sell, wholesalers know precisely which of the models that they choose to carry are disproportionately used in crime,” lawyers for the state said.
“Illegal guns in New York state cause harm above and beyond actual physical wounds,” the suit said.
“The presence of illegal handguns impairs residents’ ability to use public spaces. In locations around the state, parents do not allow their children to use public playgrounds or to walk home from school alone because gunfire may erupt.”
Under New York law, illegal guns or guns used in a crime are declared a public nuisance. Any official gaining possession of such a gun must destroy it or render it inoperable.
“Defendants know that a significant portion of their guns become crime guns, but they turn a blind eye so as to increase their profits, at the cost of many human lives and much human suffering,” the suit said.
Legal Team Targets Major Manufacturers
Spitzer said lawyers would try to convince the courts that in pursuit of profits, members of the firearms industry “created and maintained a condition of danger in our state” and it was up to the courts to stop the public nuisance the gun manufacturers had created.
Among the companies named in the lawsuit were Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc., Colt’s Manufacturing Co., Bryco Arms, Glock, Fabbrica D’Armi Pietro Beretta, Phoenix Arms, Hi-Point Firearms and Taurus International Manufacturing Inc.
Smith & Wesson, the nation’s largest maker of handguns, was left out of the suit.
In March, that company agreed to a code of conduct, including installing gun locks on the firearms it sells.