May 15, 2006

New York City sues 15 gun dealers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City sued 15 gun dealers from
five states on Monday in what officials called the largest
lawsuit of its kind to keep criminals from getting guns, and
they blamed the federal government for not doing its job.

The city filed the suit in U.S. federal court after it
launched an undercover sting operation that found dealers
allowed convicted felons to buy guns through surrogates, Mayor
Michael Bloomberg told a news conference.

The dealers from Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South
Carolina and Virginia were targeted because of the large number
of guns that have been traced back to them following crimes
committed in New York City, officials said.

Bloomberg has chastised lawmakers for not tightening
gun-control laws, and on Monday he blamed the U.S. Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for not
enforcing existing laws.

"To say ATF is asleep at the switch is an understatement,"
Bloomberg said.

The suit asks the U.S. federal court to halt illegal gun
sales by the dealers, appoint a special officer to monitor the
dealers and require them to submit to mandatory training.

The suit also seeks an unspecified amount of money to
compensate New York City for its costs plus punitive damages to
discourage other dealers from making questionable sales.

"These gun dealers are the worst of the worst," said John
Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator.

Other cities have filed such lawsuits against individual
gun dealers, but the New York suit is believed to be the first
targeting a large number of dealers from several states, said
Michael Cardozo, the city's top lawyer.

The city hired undercover private investigators who, in
teams of two, attempted "straw purchasing," where a convicted
felon or someone who does not want a gun traced to him will use
a friend or family member to pass a background check. Then the
gun gets handed over to the suspicious person.

Federal law bans gun dealers from selling when they suspect
the gun is not for the person purporting to be the buyer.

Gun violence in New York City is up 9 percent over the past
five years, and 497 people have been the victim of shootings
this year, virtually unchanged from the same period a year ago,
according to police department data. In 2004, 92 percent of
guns used in New York City came from out of state.