2005-12-07 / Features

City’s Suit Against Major Gun Makers Based On Vallone Sponsored Law

By John Toscano


A new gun control law authored by City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. and used as the basis of a lawsuit brought by the Bloomberg mayoral administration against several major gun manufacturers and distributors was given the go-ahead in Brooklyn federal court.
A new gun control law authored by City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. and used as the basis of a lawsuit brought by the Bloomberg mayoral administration against several major gun manufacturers and distributors was given the go-ahead in Brooklyn federal court. A new gun control law authored by City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. and used as the basis of a lawsuit brought by the Bloomberg mayoral administration against several major gun manufacturers and distributors was given the go-ahead in Brooklyn federal court

The ruling by Judge Jack B. Weinstein was a significant victory for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Vallone.

The judge, sitting in U.S. District Court, postponed the trial to give the gun manufacturers time to appeal, which they are expected to do.

Commenting on Weinstein’s ruling, which supports administration contentions that some gun manufacturers are aware of the flood of guns into criminals’ hands and have the power to disrupt it but refuse to do so, the mayor stated: “We are deeply gratified by today’s decision which held that the shameful gun legislation recently enacted by Congress—known as the ‘Protection of Lawful Commerce In Arms Act,’ but which should be called the Protection of Lethal Commerce In Arms Act–does not apply to the city’s lawsuit. It is a victory for the city and a loss for the NRA (National Rifle Association).”

Bloomberg also alluded to the shooting death of Police Officer Dillon Stewart 10 days ago in Brooklyn as “deadly evidence that the scourge of guns in the city is ever-present.”

Vallone also hailed Weinstein’s decision as a great breakthrough against irresponsible and unhampered gun sales.

Vallone declared: “In order to keep it possible for a law-abiding citizen to legally own a gun, we need to increase the penalties for possessing illegal guns, crack down on irresponsible distributors and give law enforcement the tools to track these illegal guns down.”

The federal gun legislation referred to by the mayor protects gun manufacturers from suits such as the one brought by the Corporation Counsel’s office on behalf of the city.

Gun makers named in the suit include Beretta U.S.A., Browning Arms, Colt Manufacturing, Glock and Smith and Wesson.

Michael S Elkin, who is serving as the city’s chief trial counsel characterized Weinstein’s decision as “probably the most sweeping lawsuit against the gun industry” and declared the city is now poised to go to trial.

He added that if the city is successful, “It will have wide-reaching effects on how guns are marketed and sold.”

In his decision, Weinstein ruled that the new federal law doesn’t apply to the city’s lawsuit because it comes under an exception that permits legal action against gun manufacturers if their sales or marketing practices violate state or federal laws.

The city makes the argument that gun makers and distributors fail to check on retail dealers closely enough and so allow guns to find their way into criminals’ hands. The city argues that the gun makers have thus created a situation that negatively affects public health and safety, violating state laws.

The mayor said the lawsuit before Weinstein was devised to check and stop gun traffic because the gun industry is completely unwilling to move to control its own dealers.

On the gun manufacturers’ side, their reactions indicated they thought Weinstein would surely dismiss the city suit. One lawyer, Lawrence G. Keane, charged that the judge was biased against gun makers and the industry, citing his previous rulings.

Keane, who represents the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said the city’s case was exactly the type of lawsuit the federal law was devised to prevent.

The package of legislation that gave rise to the city lawsuit first came before the council Public Safety Committee, of which Vallone is chair, last November.

One bill, Intro 365, created a “code of responsible conduct for gun dealers and manufacturers and makes it possible to hold them financially liable to a victim of gun violence or their family,” according to a news release issued by Vallone at the time.

Under Intro 365, a gun dealer would be liable for any injuries or death if the dealer fails to follow responsible sales practices such as selling only from a storefront location and not from a home, automobile or gun show, selling only one gun per individual within a 30-day period and maintaining records of all sales.

In other action on the gun control front, U. S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York) said that tracing and gathering data on stolen guns, such as the one used in Stewart’s murder, should be made simpler. He added that the rest of the country should have a law like the one in New York state, which requires that stolen guns must be reported to authorities and information on the gun and the theft must be entered into a database.

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