New York AG, City Sue ‘Ghost Gun’ Distributors for Fueling Gun Violence

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New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against multiple gun distributors for fueling a gun violence crisis and endangering New Yorkers.

James alleges that 10 gun distributors sold tens of thousands of illegal, unfinished frames and receivers to New Yorkers that were then converted into unserialized, untraceable handguns and assault-style weapons, known as ghost guns. According to the lawsuit, these gun distributors violated several laws, including New York’s licensing laws, by selling weapons to felons and others without background checks.

The landmark lawsuit invokes the state’s newly enacted public nuisance statute in its effort to hold these gun distributors responsible. The suit contends these businesses evaded laws meant to protect New Yorkers and contributed to the overall gun violence epidemic in the state, including rising suicides, homicides, and domestic violence rates.

The filing in New York County Supreme Court comes following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 23 decision ruling New York’s gun laws unconstitutional. The nation’s highest court struck down a New York law that required people to show a special need to carry a handgun in public, ruling for the first time that the Second Amendment protects gun rights outside the home.

Supreme Court Voids New York Gun Permit Law, Establishes Right to Carry Outside Home

The U.S. Supreme Court decision and the New York lawsuits follow several mass shootings, including one that left more than 30 people dead at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store and an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

The businesses named in James’ lawsuit are among the nation’s leading gun distributors. They include Brownells, Inc., Blackhawk Manufacturing Group (80 Percent Arms), Salvo Technologies, Inc. (80 P Builder or 80P Freedom Co), G.S. Performance, LLC (Glockstore), Indie Guns, LLC (Indie Guns), Primary Arms, LLC, Arm or Ally, LLC, Rainier Arms, LLC, KM Tactical LLC, and Rock Slide USA, LLC.

“While families mourned loved ones lost to senseless gun violence, gun sellers avoided accountability for the illegal and dangerous weapons they sold. There should be no more immunity for gun distributors bringing harm and havoc to New York, said James, adding, “Illegal guns do not belong on our streets or in our communities and we will use every tool necessary to root them out.”

New York City Suit

New York City Mayor Eric Adams today simultaneously filed the city’s own lawsuit in federal court against five of these gun distributors: Arm or Ally, 80P Builder, Rockslide USA, Rainier Arms, and Indie Guns.

“We are not going to let gun companies turn New York City into a city of mail-order murder,” said Adams. “Whether they are hidden in the trunks of cars or packed in a plain brown box, ghost guns are illegal in our city, and we will take every lawful action possible to stop gun retailers from profiting at the expense of the safety of our city.”

Firms Sue to Overturn New York Law Allowing Lawsuits Against Gun Industry

The state attorney general’s suit brings six claims against the distributors and invokes the public nuisance law for the first time, asserting that these distributors have “endangered the safety and health of the public by selling and bringing dangerous and illegal products into New York and by failing to adopt reasonable controls and procedures to prevent their products from falling into improper hands.”

The state is seeking to ban each business from selling, shipping, distributing, or otherwise supplying unfinished frames or receivers lacking serial numbers to New Yorkers. It also wants restitution and damages, public corrective statements from the businesses, and disgorgement.

In addition, James’ lawsuit seeks to require each business to contribute to an abatement fund to eliminate the public nuisance for which they are responsible. The abatement fund would be used to combat New York’s gun violence crisis.

Law Challenge

A group of gun manufacturers, distributors and retailers is challenging the constitutionality of that New York public nuisance law that allows the state and people affected by gun violence to sue the industry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation and gun manufacturers, including Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Syracuse last December that the state was impermissibly trying to regulate out-of-state gun sales. In May, Federal District Judge Mae Avila D’Agostino in Albany dismissed that lawsuit challenging the state law. Last Friday, the gun manufacturers and foundation indicated they would to appeal that dismissal to federal court.

The Attorney General ‘s office said its investigation linked tens of thousands of shipments to New York addresses to the named businesses dating back to 2017. A “significant part” of New York’s gun violence crisis is attributable to an influx of homemade, unserialized guns, commonly known as “ghost guns,” which are created using unfinished frames and receivers, according to the complaint. Unfinished frames and receivers do not have serial numbers and can easily be used to make untraceable guns at home using basic tools.

While these weapons are just as lethal as other handguns or rifles, they are sold directly to consumers without a background check or any federally-required record of their sale, according to James, who said her office has evidence that the businesses named in the lawsuit sold illegal unfinished frames and receivers to consumers with criminal records or other disqualifying conditions.

Marketing Claims

The suit claims that the businesses acknowledge in their marketing that the unfinished frames and receivers evade public safety measures. In fact, in many instances they use that as a selling point.

According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the number of ghost guns recovered at crime scenes nationwide has increased more than elevenfold in just six years, from 1,758 in 2016 to 19,344 in 2021. Throughout New York, including New York City’s five boroughs, the number of assembled ghost guns law enforcement recovered and properly identified, increased from just 44 in 2018 to 641 in 2021 — a 1,357% increase.