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    August 23, 2003

    Council Seeks to Toughen Gun Controls

    By WINNIE HU

    In the aftermath of the shooting last month of Councilman James E. Davis, the City Council is pushing ahead with several changes in New York City's gun-control laws that would make the laws, already among the toughest in the nation, more restrictive.

    The Council will hold a committee hearing on Sept. 12 on at least half a dozen bills that, if approved, would seek not only to restrict how gun makers and dealers conduct business in New York City but also to counter a growing movement across the nation to roll back gun-control measures.

    The proposals include holding gun makers, dealers and importers liable for damages if their weapons are used to kill or injure people in the city, as well as prohibiting gun dealers from selling more than one firearm to the same person within 90 days. Another proposal would require gun owners in the city to obtain liability insurance.

    While these gun-control proposals are not new, many Council members say they have taken on new urgency since nearly all 51 members witnessed the shooting of one of their own at City Hall on July 23. Mr. Davis, 41, of Brooklyn, was gunned down by a political rival, Othniel Boaz Askew, in the Council chamber after Mr. Davis escorted him past City Hall metal detectors.

    "There was no urgency prior to the shooting," said Peter Vallone Jr., chairman of the Public Safety Committee, which is holding next month's hearing.

    "But now there is a sense that we all want to move as quickly as possible on these bills in his memory."

    The city's renewed focus on gun control is also expected to open the door for broader state legislation, in much the same way that the city's ban on smoking in restaurants and other public places did.

    "I think it would be a good thing if the city did it, and showed the state the way," said the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who represents the Lower East Side.

    In 2000, spurred partly by the Columbine school shootings, Gov. George E. Pataki and the state legislators passed a broad package of gun-control laws that included raising the minimum age for obtaining a handgun permit to 21, requiring trigger locks on new handguns and establishing a statewide "ballistic fingerprinting" database, among other things. But that was an unusual moment of consensus.

    Assembly Democrats have tended to propose sweeping gun-control measures. Senate Republicans have criticized the measures as overly broad and unfair to hunters and others who use guns legally, preferring instead to increase penalties for those who use guns in crimes.

    "We support the federal Constitution in terms of the right to bear arms, but we have taken action to pass reasonable laws," said John McArdle, a spokesman for the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno.

    New York City's gun-control measures have long been more restrictive than those in the rest of the state. For instance, the city requires people to obtain a permit to possess a shotgun or rifle, whereas the state requires a license only for handguns, not for long guns.

    In addition, the city sued various gun makers in 2000, claiming that illegally obtained firearms that wound up in New York City were a public nuisance and that the manufacturers contributed to the nuisance with their marketing practices. The case is pending in federal court, city officials say.

    Patrick Brophy, a director of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said the city's seeming intolerance for firearms reflected the social and political culture in Manhattan and other parts of the city where relatively few residents hunted, shot or owned guns.

    "They don't have a day-to-day familiarity with guns anymore like they have with, say, cars," he said. "Guns are a useful tool, but many people have no understanding of that tool anymore, and what they don't know, they fear."

    Mr. Brophy said the group was closely watching the progress of the proposals in the Council.

    Increasingly, the city's gun-control efforts have contrasted with those by other states and by federal officials. Congress is divided over renewing a 1994 law that bans the manufacture of assault weapons. The House of Representatives has also passed a bill that would block states and cities from suing gun makers for misuse of their weapons by others, and the Senate is considering the proposal.

    The City Council, however, has shown little hesitation in siding against gun enthusiasts. For instance, in 2000, when the National Rifle Association proposed building a theme restaurant and game arcade in Times Square, the Council passed a resolution urging the group not to come.

    The Council speaker, Gifford Miller, said that next month's hearing would address various security issues involving guns. "My hope is that out of the hearing process the Council will put forward gun-control measures that limit as much as possible the number of guns on the streets," he said.

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, too, has been described by his aides as "pro-gun control." In response to a question at a news conference, the mayor said, "I don't know why people carry guns. Guns kill people."

    Even if New York City adopted even stricter gun-control laws, advocates on both sides of the issue question whether that would reduce violent crimes because so many guns are brought in from other states.

    Last year, the New York Police Department seized 4,065 guns from people who had obtained them illegally or used them in crimes. More than half of those were subsequently traced to out-of-state sales, according to police records. The .40-caliber handgun that Mr. Askew used to shoot Mr. Davis was legally bought out of state, police officials said.

    "New York City is really at the mercy of other states' weak gun laws," said Jim Kessler, policy and research director for Americans for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington. "It's difficult to pass a stricter law that would have an effect because the guns are being smuggled in from other states."

    Councilman Vallone acknowledged the problem of illegal guns from out of state but said he believed that tightening the city's gun-control laws would make a difference.

    "People all over the country watch what New York City does, and we intend to show leadership on this issue," he said.

    Councilman David Yassky, who has lobbied for more gun-control measures, said that before the shooting, it had been "an uphill battle" to make gun control a legislative priority because the city's budget crisis was all many council members could focus on.

    But he added that "certainly the shooting at City Hall opened their eyes to the gun problem in a very dramatic way."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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    September 13, 2003

    Differing Views Are Voiced by City on Gun Lawsuits

    By MIKE McINTIRE

    The complexities of curbing gun violence were vividly apparent yesterday at City Hall. At the same time Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was denouncing efforts in Congress to shield firearms makers from lawsuits, his criminal justice coordinator was criticizing a City Council initiative to make such suits easier.

    Mr. Bloomberg, who joined the mayors of Chicago and Los Angeles in sending a letter yesterday asking United States senators to oppose the federal legislation, said in his weekly radio address that gun manufacturers should be held accountable for the damage their products cause under certain circumstances.

    "Nobody's suggesting that they are guilty, but you should be able to sue them and prove to a jury that they acted negligently or recklessly," the mayor said.

    "Everybody wants the murder rate to come down," he added. "The only way you are going to get the murder rate down is to get the guns off the street."

    At roughly the same moment, John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator, was telling the Council's Public Safety Committee that while the Bloomberg administration agreed in principle with proposals to stem gun violence, it opposed allowing victims broad latitude to sue manufacturers.

    "As a practical matter," Mr. Feinblatt said, "the threat of unlimited liability without fault will effectively prevent gun manufacturers from selling weapons to anyone in New York City, including the Police Department."

    The nuances of the administration's position reflect the difficulties that lie ahead as city officials, spurred by the shooting death of Councilman James E. Davis in July, try to navigate the political, cultural and legal thickets on the path to a workable gun-control law. The memory of Mr. Davis was invoked repeatedly at yesterday's hearing, which was attended by his mother, Thelma Davis.

    In addition to fielding comments on a raft of proposed changes to city laws, the committee adopted two resolutions calling on the state and federal governments to do their part to make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.

    Council members acknowledged that their appeals could be largely futile. "This is a problem that is grossly ignored by the state and federal governments," said Councilman James Sanders Jr.

    Other bills being considered would require rifle and shotgun owners in the city to buy liability insurance, prohibit sales of rifles or shotguns to anyone under 21, require dealers to obtain information on buyers of ammunition and limit the purchase of rifles or shotguns to one every 90 days. The city's regulatory authority extends only to long-barrel weapons; handguns are governed by New York State law.

    Generating major disagreement among the 11 gun-control bills was a proposal to apply to gun makers the legal concept of strict liability — essentially a no-fault application of blame against a manufacturer for injuries caused by its product. Randall Casseday, a spokesman for Kahr Arms, which sells guns to the New York City Police Department, said holding the firearms industry to such a standard would be unfair.

    "I can't see how Kahr Arms can be responsible for criminal misuse of its product," Mr. Casseday said. "I don't see how you can do that. One lawsuit would put us out of business."

    Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, the prime backer of the strict-liability legislation, defended the concept as an innovative legal approach that has been successful in other realms, such as disposal of toxic waste. She had a sharp exchange with Mr. Feinblatt, pressing him for evidence that her bill would prevent legal gun sales and saying that his comments merely provided ammunition for opponents of gun control.

    "I'm sure this will appear in a National Rifle Association pamphlet, that Mr. Feinblatt, the New York City criminal justice coordinator, said that this will effectively prevent gun manufacturers from selling weapons," Ms. Moskowitz said. "I don't think there is a shred of evidence for that."

    Mr. Feinblatt said later that the point he had been trying to make was that the city should avoid gun-control initiatives that are so far-reaching they risk being struck down in court. Legal action, he said, should be reserved for gun makers that are negligent or reckless in their business practices. Such suits would be impossible under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a bill before the Senate that would immunize firearms manufacturers.

    Edward Skyler, a spokesman for the mayor, said Mr. Feinblatt had echoed the administration's belief that the city should adopt gun-control legislation that would withstand legal challenges.

    The city has a lawsuit pending against more than 30 gun makers, contending that their negligence allowed weapons to find their way into the illegal firearms market.

    "I think the Senate bill that is trying to establish blanket immunity, and the Council bill that is trying to hold gun manufacturers strictly liable, are really the two extremes in this arena," Mr. Feinblatt said. "The Senate bill essentially says that the gun manufacturers can do no wrong, and the Council bill would essentially say that gun manufacturers can do no right."

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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    February 24, 2004

    OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

    Lawyers, Guns and Mayors

    By MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG, RICHARD M. DALEY, JAMES K. HAHN and SCOTT L. KING

    Few problems facing American cities are more serious than gun violence. Guns destroy thousands of lives every year and spread fear in our neighborhoods. It is much too easy for criminals to get firearms. And when a handgun is readily available, a minor argument or domestic dispute can quickly escalate into a homicide.

    We've worked hard to get illegal guns off the streets, through tough law enforcement, by supporting reasonable gun laws — and by suing gun manufacturers and dealers to get them to take responsibility for their actions. Some two dozen American cities and counties have filed similar lawsuits.

    But Congress is on the verge of passing legislation that would undercut the ability of local governments to hold the gun industry accountable for its role in flooding our cities with guns. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act would shield irresponsible firearms manufacturers, wholesalers, dealers and trade associations from any form of civil liability in cases in which they recklessly or negligently supply firearms to criminals. The bill, which was approved by the House last April, is now being considered in the Senate.

    We do not advocate suing manufacturers in all instances when an incident involving a gun causes harm or injury. But shouldn't we be able to sue manufacturers and suppliers when they act with wanton disregard for the safety of our neighborhoods?

    By immunizing gun manufacturers against civil liability, the bill would remove much of their legal incentive to behave responsibly. It would encourage bad manufacturers to remain bad and good manufacturers to become lax.

    Most firearms dealers are responsible business people selling to law-abiding customers. But a small minority are not, and their unlawful actions are largely responsible for the gun violence on our cities' streets. According to federal data from 2000, 1.2 percent of dealers account for 57 percent of all guns recovered in criminal investigations. Many of these guns were illegal "straw purchases," a common street-gang tactic in which someone with a valid state firearms card buys large quantities of guns for resale to people with criminal records.

    And yet the gun industry refuses to police itself. Gun manufacturers and wholesalers know who the problem dealers are, because when guns are recovered at crime scenes, they receive firearms tracing reports that show them which dealers sell disproportionately to criminals.

    The gun industry claims it's merely seeking protection from frivolous lawsuits. But federal and state courts are recognizing the legal validity of many of these cases. Courts in several states have upheld the legal merits of these suits, and a case involving Chicago is before Illinois's highest court.

    Almost 7,200 people were murdered with handguns in the United States in 2002, the most recent year for which figures are available. It is obvious that something needs to be done at the federal level. But rather than pass gun legislation that would make our streets safer, Congress proposes basically to immunize the gun industry from efforts to make it act responsibly.

    All senators should oppose this bill. If they don't, they ought to explain why the one industry deserving of this extraordinary protection should be the one that makes a product that kills thousands of Americans each year.

    Some of our senators and representatives might also consider serving as a big-city mayor for a day or two. They could talk, as we do, to law-abiding, hard-working mothers and fathers who are desperate to get guns off the streets so they can walk to the store without fear or let their children play in their front yards. These citizens deserve a Congress that will work to make their lives safer.

    Michael R. Bloomberg is the mayor of New York. Richard M. Daley is the mayor of Chicago. James K. Hahn is the mayor of Los Angeles. Scott L. King is the mayor of Gary, Ind.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    March 19, 2004

    Bloomberg Urges Stiffer Law Against Sales of Illegal Guns

    By JENNIFER STEINHAUER

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday sent a letter to legislative leaders in Albany urging them to pass legislation that would strengthen New York State's law against illegal gun sales.

    Mr. Bloomberg is seeking to close a loophole in state laws that keep some sellers of illegal guns from receiving felony convictions. Specifically, he wants to see the state lower the threshold number of guns required for felony convictions and permit prosecutors to aggregate the number of illegal guns sold in multiple transactions in a one-year period.

    Mr. Bloomberg distributed copies of his letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the State Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, during a ceremony to dedicate a plaque in honor of Detectives Rodney J. Andrews and James V. Nemorin, who were shot to death last March during an undercover operation to buy illegal guns on Staten Island.

    Mr. Bloomberg said yesterday that the detectives lost their lives because they were forced to repeat purchases of guns to increase the possible penalty for illegal sellers.

    "Guns kill people, and they were trying to save the rest of us," he said of the two detectives at a ceremony at the 77th Precinct station house in Brooklyn. "Their valor and dedication contributed immeasurably to making New York City the safest large city in the United States."

    Among the other speakers, including Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, was Robert Tracy, the captain and commander of the firearms investigation unit, whose son, born a few days after the detectives died, was named after Detective Andrews. The child cooed from the front row of spectators.

    Under current law, a defendant cannot be charged with a C felony unless he sells 10 guns; a B felony charge, which carries a harsher penalty, has a threshold of 20 guns.

    Both the Assembly and Senate have versions of bills that would increase punishments for gun offenders, but neither bill is precisely on track with the mayor's request.

    This week, Mr. Bruno accused Mr. Silver of holding up anticrime bills, including those that could increase gun penalties. "They have a concern about increasing penalties for almost any crime," Mr. Bruno said. "They will tell you that most of the people that are in prison are black or Hispanic, and consequently, when you increase the penalties, you are increasing the likelihood that blacks or Hispanics are going to be incarcerated." Mr. Silver expressed outrage and demanded an apology.

    Yesterday, Charles Carrier, a spokesman for Mr. Silver, said about the mayor's request: "The bill we passed on Monday in this house contains a lot of the penalty provisions that are being sought. We agree with the mayor that we need to address it, but our bill goes beyond it."

    Mr. Bloomberg has made prosecuting gun crimes one of the centerpieces of his law enforcement agenda. His administration, in conjunction with district attorneys, has created three special courts that are used to prosecute gun crimes, and a program to remove more guns from high-crime neighborhoods. Earlier this week, the city announced that it was cracking down on stores that sell illegal, realistic looking fake guns, fining one such store $50,000.

    Gov. George E. Pataki yesterday praised Mr. Bloomberg for supporting a change in the gun laws. "I urge the Legislature to act on this legislation that gives law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on gun traffickers, as well as help protect them while they are working to ensure our safety,'' Mr. Pataki said in an e-mail statement.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    April 17, 2004

    New York Loses a Top Legal Ally in Suit Over Guns

    By WILLIAM GLABERSON

    New York City is preparing for the first trial of a civil suit by an American city claiming that the gun industry fosters an illegal market in the firearms criminals use to deliver death to the city's doorsteps.

    Gun industry representatives say the case is crucial, and the companies have some of the country's top law firms defending them. Until a few weeks ago, the city had a powerful legal weapon, too: another of the country's top law firms, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, had agreed more than two years ago to work on the case for free.

    But now the law firm is withdrawing from the case, acknowledging that at least one of its corporate clients had complained about its role. In a statement, the firm said that "certain potential `positional conflicts' " had been "brought to our attention." Some industry critics say the disruption in the city's legal team may have been intended to weaken the city's chances in what is certain to be a bitterly fought trial.

    According to lawyers who have been involved in the case or have been briefed on it, Weil, Gotshal's withdrawal followed a rapid sequence of events out of the public eye.

    The firm's lawyers appeared formally for the first time in court on Jan. 30. In February, the lawyers said, Alan E. Mansfield, a New York lawyer for Smith & Wesson, called at least one company he represents that is also a client of Weil, Gotshal. Smith & Wesson is one of the 40 gun makers and distributors sued by the city.

    After the call by the Smith & Wesson lawyer, people at the corporate client of Weil, Gotshal raised questions with Weil, Gotshal lawyers about whether the gun case might lead to precedents that could later be used against them, lawyers involved in the case say.

    With the gun case heating up in late March, the Weil, Gotshal lawyers privately told the city's lawyers that they could no longer continue to work on the case.

    "The city has just lost an invaluable resource," said Elisa Barnes, a Manhattan lawyer who has handled other cases against the gun industry. "You've got to get King Kong to fight Godzilla."

    The suit, which is likely to go to trial this fall, seeks an injunction stopping the industry from sales and distribution practices that the plaintiffs claim amount to a public nuisance. Critics have long accused the gun companies of closing their eyes to illicit distribution pathways. They say certain dealers, for example, are routinely tied to the sale of guns to criminals.

    Almost no one is saying anything publicly about the behind-the-scenes events. Mr. Mansfield said he would not "talk about what I do or don't do on behalf of my clients." Lawyers for the city have not made a public assertion of any betrayal. Instead, after a request for a comment, the city's corporation counsel, Michael A. Cardozo, issued a statement praising Weil, Gotshal for its generosity in volunteering in the first place.

    The battle over the role of Weil, Gotshal is the latest display of the hardball struggles over more than 35 similar suits that were filed by cities from coast to coast against the firearms industry beginning in 1998.

    That struggle has included an effort by the gun industry and its supporters that failed in Congress last month to get immunity for the industry from such suits, and stark claims by the gunmakers in the city's case that the Brooklyn federal judge handling it, Jack B. Weinstein, is biased against the firearms industry.

    The damage to the city by the firm's withdrawal is far from symbolic. It deprives the city not only of the skills of the two accomplished Weil, Gotshal lawyers handling the case, Richard J. Davis and Steven A. Reiss, but also of the vast resources of the firm, which has its headquarters at the General Motors building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and more than 1,100 lawyers worldwide.

    "The gun industry and its lawyers will stop at nothing to prevent the plaintiffs from having their day in court," said Mathew S. Nosanchuk, a lawyer on the city's side of the case who is the litigation director for the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control group.

    Lawyers at the city's Law Department, who have been working with Weil, Gotshal, are continuing to prepare for the trial. The department has scarce resources and few lawyers with the credentials to match those of Mr. Davis, 58, a former assistant secretary of the treasury for enforcement; and Mr. Reiss, 52, a former tenured professor at New York University Law School.

    In his statement praising Weil, Gotshal, Mr. Cardozo, acknowledged that he regretted that the firm "needed to withdraw as co-counsel." He said the city would "continue prosecuting this case vigorously."

    Lawrence G. Keane, the general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade group, said he knew of no role any lawyer for the companies had played in Weil, Gotshal's withdrawal. Smith & Wesson declined to comment.

    Weil, Gotshal's statement described the issues brought to the firm's attention as "certain potential `positional conflicts' involving the position of long-term existing clients and those being advanced in the gun case."

    By referring to potential conflicts, the statement suggested that legal ethics rules had influenced its decision. The rules bar lawyers from handling cases in which there are actual conflicts of interest among clients.

    "We withdrew," Mr. Davis said this week, "when we determined that the client's concerns about potential conflicts had some validity, not simply because the client objected."

    Mr. Reiss added that Weil, Gotshal wanted to avoid any appearance that it might have weakened its arguments on behalf of the city because of its other allegiances, adding that such appearances are "what the conflict rules seek to avoid."

    But some legal ethics experts said it was far from clear that ethics rules required the firm to drop the city as a client. Instead, some of them said, the firm may have made what amounted to a business decision to bow to the wishes of long-term clients.

    Several experts said they had reached that conclusion in part because a firm of Weil, Gotshal's sophistication would have taken on the city's case only after determining that it would not pose any conflict with its many other clients. The firm has represented scores of companies, including Texaco, Lorillard Tobacco Company, Enron, Johns-Manville and General Motors.

    Rules dealing with actual conflicts of interest require a firm to decline a case, such as when a law firm is asked to handle a suit against an existing client. But, in contrast, several legal ethics experts said, a positional conflict often does not require a law firm to step down. A positional conflict occurs when a lawyer takes a position in one case while making a contrary argument in another.

    Some legal ethics specialists said too little was known about the circumstances to determine what ethical rules applied. But others said that a "potential positional conflict" would rarely require a law firm to resign from a case.

    "Positional conflicts arise every day," said Roy D. Simon Jr., a legal ethics professor at Hofstra University School of Law. He said a law firm would not usually be required to take any action at all.

    Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., a legal ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, agreed. He said Weil, Gotshal appeared not to have confronted an ethical problem so much as what lawyers call a "client relationship problem."

    "The law firm is being put in a squeeze," he said, adding, "Lawyers in private practice have to have a stream of income."

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    May 21, 2004

    City Wins Right to U.S. Data on Firearms

    By WILLIAM GLABERSON

    New York City won a significant victory this week in its civil suit against the firearms industry, winning the right to information that could help prove its claim that the industry closes its eyes to the way guns get into the hands of criminals.

    On Wednesday, a federal magistrate ruled that the city was entitled to federal data that traces the path of guns used in crimes, overruling objections by the Justice Department. Lawyers say that without the data the city would have difficulty proving its claim that the gun industry's marketing and distribution practices amount to a public nuisance.

    The ruling by Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak, in Federal Court in Brooklyn, waded into a contentious legal and political issue over the Bush administration's reluctance to release the tracing data, which is likely to be helpful to civil suits against the industry around the country. Access to the data has provoked battles in Congress and in the United States Supreme Court, with the gun industry and its opponents squaring off over whether it should be released.

    In 2003 and again this year, the Republican-controlled Congress enacted appropriations measures saying that no funds could be used to release the tracing data. Some supporters said the information could undermine police investigations, while industry opponents said groups like the National Rifle Association had slipped the measure in, to hobble the civil suits against the gun industry.

    A Justice Department lawyer suggested during arguments in the city's case that the department, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, had changed a government policy that permitted the limited release of the information in an earlier lawsuit.

    The lead lawyer on the case at the city's Law Department, Eric Proshansky, said yesterday that the data would enable the city to prove that gun makers have failed to protect the public.

    Judge Pollak's decision, Mr. Proshansky said, "is important to the city because the proof in these suits is developed by demonstrating through these databases that the gun industry knows about problems in the distribution networks" that end in sales of guns to criminals.

    A similar battle over a demand for the same information from the City of Chicago is being fought in the courts.

    The data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms includes the sales history of guns that law enforcement agencies seek to trace. Many of those tracing requests are begun after guns are found in crime investigations. Taken together, the traces can provide a roadmap showing, for example, that some dealers can be identified as tied more often to guns used in crime than others.

    Sheree Mixell, the spokeswoman for the bureau, which fought the release of the information, said lawyers were reviewing the decision but the agency would not comment on pending litigation. But other lawyers said they thought it likely that the bureau would appeal, first to the United States district judge handling the city's case, Jack B. Weinstein, and then possibly to an appeals court.

    In a lawsuit by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoplethat raised claims similar to those in the city's suit, the bureau agreed to release some of the information in 2002. Under that agreement, the access to the information was strictly limited and the information could not be used in any other suit.

    The N.A.A.C.P. suit failed. But in a decision last year Judge Weinstein seemed to indicate that the city's suit might have a better chance at success.

    Some law enforcement officials have been highly critical of the release of the gun-tracing information, saying it is intended for law enforcement purposes and that its release could compromise investigations by showing which cases police agencies are pursuing.

    In a letter to Mr. Ashcroft in 2002, the New York police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, took a position that undercut the argument of the city's civil lawyers in the case against the gun industry. Mr. Kelly said release of the information would "compromise critical law enforcement investigations and endanger the lives of police officers and members of the public.''

    Backed by the gun industry, the bureau's lawyers argued in the city's case that the appropriations measures barred the bureau from releasing the information.

    In her decision Judge Pollak disagreed, saying that the bureau was required to turn over the data under a city subpoena. The city had agreed that the data would not be distributed outside the case. "Congress,'' she wrote, "did not intend to restrict civil litigants from receiving firearms data pursuant to judicial subpoena.''

    In a filing in the case, Mr. Proshansky cited remarks made by a federal lawyer at a hearing last month suggesting that the government's policy had changed under Mr. Ashcroft.

    The lawyer, Barry Orlow, deputy associate chief counsel of the bureau, had noted that the firearms bureau was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department during the government's Homeland Security reorganization in 2003.

    "We don't work for the secretary of the Treasury anymore, we work for the attorney general,'' Mr. Orlow said, adding that "policy considerations have changed.''

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    May 27, 2004

    Police Back Gun Lawsuit

    To the Editor:

    I take issue with a statement in a May 21 news article that the police commissioner "took a position that undercut the argument of the city's civil lawyers" in New York City's case against gun makers and distributors. In fact, the Police Department supports the lawsuit and has been working with the Law Department on this case since its inception.

    The police commissioner's letter in 2002 to Attorney General John Ashcroft, which you mention, addressed a ruling of a federal court in Chicago that would have permitted unrestricted release to the public of the firearms trace database maintained by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. New York City has sought access to that same information under the very different, guarded conditions of a judicial protective order.

    Throughout the case, the Police Department and city lawyers have worked together to assure achievement of two goals: requiring gun makers and distributors to adopt responsible marketing and distribution practices, while maintaining the confidentiality of law enforcement information.

    STEPHEN L. HAMMERMAN
    Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters
    New York Police Dept.
    New York, May 21, 2004

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    April 3, 2006
    News Analysis
    In His War on Illegal Guns, Bloomberg Is Facing Uphill
    By SEWELL CHAN

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's war against the gun industry went into overdrive last week, with an appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and a speech two days later, at a fund-raising dinner for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in which he assailed illegal guns as "scourges to our society." And his campaign will only intensify in the next few months, as Mr. Bloomberg intends to announce the city's first lawsuits against rogue gun dealers and to press Albany to toughen the penalties for criminal gun possession.

    The mayor has made fighting illegal guns a signature of his second-term agenda and vowed to use "every means at our disposal," from legislation to litigation, to curb the influx of out-of-state weapons, which the city says account for 82 percent of guns used in crimes.

    But his high-profile quest to curb guns seems to hit mostly roadblocks once he leaves the five boroughs. A lawsuit the city filed against gun manufacturers in 2000 drags on in the courts. Albany has shown only a modest appetite for revisiting gun laws, while leaders in Washington have virtually ignored Mr. Bloomberg's views on guns. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether any mayor can make headway on gun policy, which is largely the province of the federal government.

    "Bloomberg is swimming upstream against the national political tides on this issue," said Robert J. Spitzer, a political scientist at the State University of New York at Cortland, who has written extensively on gun-policy debates.

    With limited success, big-city mayors past and present, from Tom Bradley of Los Angeles to Richard M. Daley of Chicago, have railed against guns, Professor Spitzer said, adding that Mr. Bloomberg has given new prominence to the issue.

    "Bloomberg's problem is trying to build a coalition that will actually have a measurable effect on illicit gun trafficking," he said. "The likelihood of success for him is slim. The officials who have the greatest potential ability to influence this — the governors of Southern states — are unlikely to be sympathetic to him. The federal administration and Republican leaders in Washington have no interest in his agenda."

    Mr. Bloomberg's aides do not deny that he faces an uphill battle but note that several key initiatives under way fall under state or local control.

    Gun courts, where a designated judge handles most cases involving illegal gun possession, have been set up since 2003 in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. In those three boroughs, jail sentences for gun possession are now one year or longer in 79 percent to 90 percent of cases, up from 45 percent to 51 percent in 2001.

    Since 2003, a Police Department program, Operation Impact, has dispatched newly graduated officers to patrol areas that have the highest numbers of shootings. The program, the police say, has resulted in a major drop in felony crime and modest increases in gun arrests and gun seizures.

    Two other police programs, which pay $1,000 to informers who identify owners of illegal handguns and $100 to people who voluntarily surrender their firearms, have removed more than 5,000 guns from the streets since 2002.

    But the city's boldest effort at curbing illegal guns — a 2000 lawsuit against gun manufacturers, brought under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and vigorously pursued by the Bloomberg administration — has so far yielded little. The suit asserts that the gun makers have created a public nuisance by knowingly selling guns to a small number of reckless dealers.

    Far from effecting tighter federal gun policies, the city's suit — along with 32 others filed by cities and counties nationwide — prompted a federal law, passed and signed last year, that gives gun makers broad exemption from liability in civil suits.

    Mr. Bloomberg appears undeterred. In January, he announced that his Law Department was preparing a fresh batch of suits, this time concentrating on dealers who sell to "straw purchasers" — middlemen who, using their clean records, obtain guns on behalf of criminals.

    The mayor also is pressing Albany to close what city officials view as a loophole in the state's gun laws that allows judges to avoid giving jail time for possession of a loaded handgun. State Senator Martin J. Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, has introduced a bill to eliminate that provision, on the books since 1978, but the Legislature has not acted.

    Much of Mr. Bloomberg's effort in recent weeks has been to chastise his opponents on gun issues. Last week, for instance, he called "unconscionable" a House bill that would block cities from getting access to federal gun-trace data, which includes information on the sales histories of guns, many of them used in crimes.

    "It's safe to say that Mayor Bloomberg is our hero," said Dennis A. Henigan, legal director of the Brady Center, the legal arm of the Brady Campaign. "He has emerged as a national leader on this issue."

    John Feinblatt, the mayor's criminal justice coordinator, said that Mr. Bloomberg had tried to avoid the ideological morass of gun debates by focusing more narrowly on illegal guns used in crimes. "This isn't about gun control, this is about crime control," Mr. Feinblatt said. "This is not a referendum on the Second Amendment."

    Asked whether the mayor risked spending his political capital for naught, Edward Skyler, the deputy mayor for administration, said: "It's not about spending political capital. It's an investment in public safety."

    Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said that the bully pulpit might be the mayor's strongest weapon on gun control. "It's perhaps not as big an issue in other parts of the country, but we need their help," he said. "It is a national issue, and the mayor is in a unique position to get that message out nationally."

    For now, there seems to be little downside to the mayor's advocacy, given the wide support gun control enjoys in the city.

    Chris McNickle, author of "To Be Mayor of New York," a history of the role of ethnicity in the city's mayoral elections, likened Mr. Bloomberg's campaign against guns to the positions of several of his predecessors on issues of national significance that were outside their formal purview. For example, Fiorello H. La Guardia was a staunch defender of civil liberties, Robert F. Wagner fought against housing discrimination, John V. Lindsay opposed the Vietnam War and Edward I. Koch championed the death penalty.

    "Mayors have often taken positions on issues of national significance that are beyond their ability to control, and that has typically happened when the position is one that's popular with the people of the city and personally important to the mayor," he said, adding of the gun issue, "There is a moral high ground, a logic, that resonates with the mayor and his constituents."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  9. #9

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    May 16, 2006
    New York City Sues 15 Gun Dealers in 5 States, Charging Illegal Sales
    By DIANE CARDWELL

    Testing a novel strategy in its aggressive campaign against illegal firearms, New York City sent teams of private investigators posing as gun buyers to stores in 5 states, catching 15 dealers making illegal sales, officials said yesterday.

    In the two-month sting operation, which city officials and gun control advocates said was the first of such wide scope, teams of operatives wearing hidden cameras traveled to Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia to make what are known as straw purchases, a violation of federal law in which one individual submits to the required federal background check for a gun that is clearly to be used by someone else.

    All 15 dealers, whose guns have been linked to more than 500 crimes in New York City from 1994 to 2001, improperly sold a gun to the private investigators, officials said. The evidence is to be used in a lawsuit against the dealers filed yesterday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn and is being shared with federal law enforcement agencies.

    "Our suit offers clear and compelling evidence that guns sold by these dealers are used in crimes by people ineligible to own a gun far more frequently than guns from other dealers," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a City Hall news conference announcing the operation. "In other words, these dealers are the worst of the worst."

    In January 2001, a 12-year-old boy playing with a semiautomatic handgun from Mickalis Pawn Shop in Summerville, S.C., accidentally shot someone in the chest, officials said. It was one of 49 guns from the store linked to crimes in New York City. That year, one of 42 such guns sold by A-1 Jewelry & Pawn in Augusta, Ga., was used in the attempted murder of uniformed police officers.

    The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from the 15 dealers and the appointment of a special master to monitor their sales closely. City officials said they might also ask the court to shut the gun businesses down.

    The evidence collected is being shared with the Justice Department, including the United States attorneys with jurisdiction over the dealers, and with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an agency that Mr. Bloomberg has said has been "asleep at the switch" in policing gun sales.

    The operation is one of the steps the Bloomberg administration has adopted after seeing some of its efforts against the gun trade sputter. Since his second term started this year, Mr. Bloomberg has been outspoken on gun trafficking and has tried to focus national attention on the issue, coordinating with other mayors, pursuing lawsuits against gun manufacturers and lobbying Congress not to pass what he calls "godawful bills."

    For instance, Congress has already limited the city's ability to obtain new data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tracing the origin of guns used in crimes and is considering bills that would essentially make those limits permanent.

    The new sting operation, which Mr. Bloomberg plans to discuss with lawmakers in Washington today, is in part a response to a law passed last year that protects gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits unless they are engaged in illegal activity.

    "Our opponents never tire of telling us that we ought to be going after the people who break the law with guns," Mr. Bloomberg said. "Well, O.K. You asked for something; you got it."

    Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said he had not seen the lawsuit yet and declined to comment on it, but he added that his organization was opposed to straw purchases. "They're against the law," he said.

    Gun-control advocates praised the sting operation and the lawsuit. "The City of New York is disproportionately affected by rogue gun dealers who play a key role in this system, since the vast majority of crime guns used in the city come from other states with lax gun laws," said Jackie Kuhls, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. "The legal action New York City is taking against these dealers sends a message that not all government officials are willing to look the other way."

    Other cities, including Gary, Ind., Chicago and Detroit, have taken similar approaches in their own jurisdictions, sometimes using local law enforcement officials, said Elizabeth Haile, a staff lawyer at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "This would be the first time that they looked at sources all over the country no matter what state it was," she said.

    To build its case, the city chose roughly 60 gun dealers to investigate based on data it had received earlier from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Investigators from the James Mintz Group, a private investigation outfit, worked in pairs, with one looking at the merchandise, talking with the salesman and handling the weapon in making a decision to purchase while the other wandered the store, seemingly uninterested.

    When it came time to buy the gun and fill out the forms for a background check, the first operative, often a man, would call in his partner, frequently a woman, who had not been part of the discussion of the weapon, officials said. The second investigator would fill out the background paperwork, and the first one would pay for the gun in cash.

    In several instances, the gun dealer followed the law and refused the sale, but the 15 named in the lawsuit ultimately sold a weapon to one of the investigators, Mr. Bloomberg said,

    One of the 15 outlets was Woody's Pawn Shop in Orangeburg, S.C., where officials have traced 98 guns connected to crimes in the city, including the death of a 31-year-old man in Brooklyn in 2001.

    Chan Holman, the owner, said he would not jeopardize his business selling 100 to 150 guns a month by breaking the law.

    "We do sell an awful lot of handguns, and I can't control what hands they end up in," he said in a telephone interview. "We just do the best we can to make sure they get into the right hands."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  10. #10

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    May 17, 2006
    Bloomberg Joins Schumer in Seeking Access to Gun Sales Data
    By RAYMOND HERNANDEZ

    WASHINGTON, May 16 — Pressing ahead with his campaign against illegal firearms, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg joined Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York here on Tuesday as the senator proposed legislation to curb the problem.

    The bill would give state and local law enforcement agencies access to federal data, including sales history, that traces the path of guns used in crimes.

    Mr. Bloomberg's appearance came a day after his administration announced that New York City had caught 15 gun dealers making illegal sales after sending teams of private investigators posing as gun buyers to about 60 stores in 5 states.

    In a two-month sting operation, operatives wearing hidden cameras traveled to Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia to make what are known as straw purchases, a violation of federal law in which one person submits to the required federal background check for a gun that is clearly to be used by someone else.

    The city said that all 15 dealers, whose guns have been linked to more than 500 crimes in New York City from 1994 to 2001, improperly sold guns to the private investigators. Evidence from the sting operation is to be used in a lawsuit that the city has filed against the dealers. The suit seeks monetary damages from the dealers and the appointment of a special master to monitor their sales. City officials said they might also ask the court to shut the dealers down.

    The gun-tracing data addressed in the Schumer bill is collected by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It can help identify dealers who are tied more often than others to the sale of guns used in crimes.

    The data has provoked a fierce debate in Congress, with the gun industry and its opponents at odds over whether it should be released. The data is likely to help civil suits against the gun industry around the country. In recent years, Congress has enacted measures essentially blocking the release of the tracing data, citing privacy concerns.

    Mr. Schumer said that Mr. Bloomberg's efforts to draw attention to illegal firearms would help provide the momentum needed to force Congress to act.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  11. #11

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    May 27, 2006
    U.S. Will Help New York City Pursue Cases Against Gun Dealers
    By AL BAKER

    Casework supporting the city's federal lawsuit against 15 gun dealers in five states will be funneled to federal law enforcement agents around the country for possible criminal investigations and prosecutions, officials said yesterday.

    The New York office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will collect and evaluate the evidence on illegal purchases of guns that has been gathered by the Bloomberg administration and send it to offices with jurisdiction over those dealers, officials said.

    In all, five federal judicial districts could wind up pursuing criminal cases, since the city conducted its two-month sting in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. The city used federal trace data to pinpoint shops that sold guns used in city crimes and then videotaped undercover operatives making what are known as straw purchases, in which a person buys a gun meant for someone else.

    The city's stepping into an arena traditionally dominated by federal law enforcement sent ripples through criminal justice circles, but hewed closely to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's pledge to reduce gun trafficking and focus national attention on the issue. He has invited other mayors to Gracie Mansion and lobbied Congress against federal restrictions on trace data.

    The mayor has also directly criticized the A.T.F., saying that the agency has been "asleep at the switch" in policing gun sales.

    The new arrangement with the A.T.F. was struck after William G. McMahon, the special agent in charge of the agency's New York field division, met Tuesday with John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator. "An agreement was reached where the city would work closely with A.T.F.," Mr. McMahon said, "and provide us with the information gathered."

    Mr. McMahon has been designated the point man in the federal government's response to city efforts to stem the flow of illegal firearms. Of all the guns used in crimes in the city, 82 percent are brought in illegally from other states, officials said.

    "We are encouraged by the recent communications with the Justice Department about our efforts to stop the flow of illegal guns into our city," said Edward Skyler, the deputy mayor for administration, who is coordinating the mayor's initiatives against illegal guns.

    Last week, the Bloomberg administration announced that it had filed a federal lawsuit against the dealers.

    On Thursday, the police arrested two federally licensed firearms dealers in New York City after their shops, which were identified as part of the same undercover operation, were accused of selling weapons without requiring buyers to produce valid pistol licenses, authorities said. The city revoked the dealers' licenses to sell guns in New York City.

    The mayor has also railed against legislation that bars the A.T.F. from publicly disclosing the sources of guns used in crimes. The agency can still provide law enforcement officials with data about guns for specific prosecutions in their jurisdictions, including information about the state where the gun was bought and the identification of the buyer.

    But legislation now under consideration in Congress that would make permanent the broad limits on what the agency can release has angered the mayor.

    Mr. Bloomberg's pressure on the issue has caused some movement from the federal government. Indeed, the agency made its statement yesterday, in part, to dispel any notion that it wanted to interfere with the city's investigation of out-of-state gun dealers or was critical of that effort.

    Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, whose detectives have worked with the agency on gun investigations since 1990, said he believed that Washington was bound to respond.

    "We're doing our part, here in New York," Mr. Kelly said after a promotion ceremony yesterday.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  12. #12

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    June 5, 2006
    More Mayors Join New York City Antigun Effort
    By SEWELL CHAN

    Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that the mayors of 37 cities — including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego and San Francisco — have joined his effort to fight the trafficking in illegal guns. Mr. Bloomberg and 14 other mayors held a summit at Gracie Mansion on April 25 and signed a six-point statement vowing to pursue gun dealers who knowingly sell guns to criminals through intermediaries and to oppose federal bills that would restrict cities' access to gun-tracing data.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  13. #13

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    New York lost it's fight for gun control a hundred year ago, when it was first imposed. It's time for NY to realize it lost, realize the rest of the country is not going to tow NYC line, realize that criminals can get guns whenever they want, and let law abiding citizens have them.

  14. #14
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Yeah -- let's just shoot it out all over the place.

    Maybe if you first form a "well regulated militia" then I'd go along with your argument ...

  15. #15

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    So you're saying that gun control in NY had been a success? The only people who abide by it are the ones you don't have to worry about anyway.

    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1
    Yeah -- let's just shoot it out all over the place.

    Maybe if you first form a "well regulated militia" then I'd go along with your argument ...

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