There needs to be a sign posted along every highway just before it crosses into New York State that reads; “Caution Virtue Signaling and Needless Harassment Ahead.” That’s because NY State and it’s Aspiring Governor, er, Attorney General Letitia James is -once again- plowing ahead with ill-conceived litigation. This time against “National Gun Distributors” for ostensibly “fueling gun violence crisis and endangering New Yorkers.”
Apparently AG James doesn’t have enough no her plate, so she’s had her office of litigators fabricate another flimsy case against “ten gun distributors” in a “comprehensive lawsuit that alleges (my italics -you’re innocent until proven guilty, but that is frequently overlooked by many media outlets) violation of “local, state and federal laws.”
The reason for the suit- not a difficult guess- “ghost gun parts” - you know, those parts that are totally legal for individuals to own and assemble as long as they’re not resold or given to anyone else (I’ve run wild with the italicized words, but at least I’m not using sixty-seven exclamation points like some 9 year old’s letter from camp!!!!!!).
The lawsuit alleges the parts were sold to felons “and others” without a background check. The last time I glanced at federal laws, there was no requirement for a background check for parts that don’t qualify as completed firearm element requiring serialization.
AG James asserts Brownells, Blackhawk Manufacturing, Salvo Technologies, G.S. Performance, Indie Guns, Primary Arms, Arm or Ally, Rainier Arms, KM Tactical, and Rock Slide USA “flooded New York’s streets with illegal ghost guns and harmed New Yorkers.”
Looks like AG James has assembled a list of suspects according to two criteria: deep pockets (Brownells, Blackhawk) and small enough to put out of business by defending themselves against this suit.
A weary old policeman once told me that when you have a long list of suspects you are only seeking “one rat.” Brownells and Blackhawk can certainly afford to mount a “spirited defense.” They’re not likely to “roll” in order to limit their liability. Can’t definitively say that about the others.
Consequently, I would suspect the NY AG’s office isn’t seeking a “landmark legal decision” - although they’d take it. What they’re looking to get is a pound (or six) of flesh from companies that prefer settlement over potential litigation. New York’s not exactly known for giving gun companies the benefit of a doubt when awarding damages.
With the jaundiced eye of a longtime political observer, it’s tough not to believe that a political win, in a state with an unelected governor and a decidedly political bent to every other decision made in Albany, would be just as good as a guilty verdict.
In politics, “doing something” even if it has less chance of succeeding than a dodo does of supersonic flight, counts. It gives political cover -or allows bureaucrats to incrementally shape the law to what you actually wanted but couldn’t get passed legislatively.
That, in a nutshell, is why much of the legislation passed could be described as being “a mile wide, but only a quarter-inch deep.”
My political suspicions heightened when I learned that New York Mayor Eric Adams had filed a simultaneous federal lawsuit against five of the gun distributors: Arm or Ally, 80P Builder, Rockslide USA, Rainier Arms and Indie Arms for the City of New York.
“We’re not going to let gun companies turn New York City into a city of mail-order murder,” Adams declared, “Whether they’re 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 dealers from profiting at the expense of the safety of our city.”
According to the New York State lawsuit, “ghost gun parts” only require a “few small changes with a “common drill press” to “transform an unfinished receiver into an operational one.”
If you’ve ever tried to duplicate those “small changes” - even if you happen to own a “common drill press”- you know that’s as laughable as a do-it-yourself TV show telling you it’s possible to refurbish a Steinway piano with a nail file and a two spray cans of gloss black paint.
McGuyver might have done it on TV, but he got multiple takes. And special effects.
The state suit cites an incident where a “ghost gun” was actually used in a crime.
That incident, apparently, proves some sort of implication that the “literally thousands of purchases” documented in the New York investigation equates to “literally thousands” of guns just waiting to pounce. The inference is also strong these “ghosts” don’t even require operators.
Having lived in New York City, there are undoubtedly several thousand criminals inside the boroughs, waiting to pounce. But I seriously doubt they’re armed with ghost guns they’ve assembled themselves.
In fairness, there’s no argument that out of “thousands of transactions” someone used those assembled parts and pieces either irresponsibly or illegally. Or both.
That however, isn’t a damming indictment of the firearms industry. It’s confirmation of a statistical probability.
Attorney General James uses the advertising of 80 Percent Arms as further proof of wholesale industry guilt.
Their advertising, she says, touts “No RED TAPE including: NO Registering an 80% Lower, NO Transfer fees like a typical firearm, NO FFL required, Ships right to your door.”
All true. Unfortunately (for her case) all totally legal in all but the most anti-gun areas of the United States.
Using it to infer bad intentions is a solid political strategy. But proving to a jury that advertising messages were an indication of bad intent should present a slightly higher bar to clear.
She’s also using big numbers to frighten the uninformed when citing a chilling 1,357 percent increase in “ghost guns” being recovered by New York police. Using the actual “numbers” rather than percentages, it isn’t nearly so horrifying: 44 of the so-called “ghosts” were recovered. In 2018 the number increased to 641.
As the old adage says: there are three types of lies: lies, damnable lies, and statistics.
So what is AG James seeking in her suit?
A ban on each of the listed businesses from selling, shipping, distributing or otherwise supplying unfinished frames or receivers or receivers lacking serial numbers (aren’t finished but unserialized frames illegal to sell by federal statute?) to New Yorkers, “restitution and damages”, “public corrective statements from the businesses regarding their false and misleading statements, and obtain disgorgement.”
Disgorgement, FYI, is a financial penalty for individuals convicted of having “amassed wealth in a wrongful manner.”
There’s one more thing: 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.”
This is another instance of New York’s declaration of open hostilities with any person or business in the gun industry. It’s no coincidence these suits dropped after the Supreme Court struck down the state’s concealed carry permitting process.
This is looking like another battles being waged by politicians and bureaucrats on an increasingly frequent basis on their citizens.
As always, we’ll keep you posted.
— Jim Shepherd