Buffalo, NY sues gun industry under state's "public nuisance" law

Buffalo, NY sues gun industry under state's "public nuisance" law
(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Shortly before leaving office in disgrace, Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that encourages lawsuits against the firearms industry that seek to hold them accountable for the actions of criminals. Despite the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which was approved on a bipartisan basis back in 2005 and was meant to halt these kinds of junk lawsuits, so far the federal courts have declined to overturn the New York law, and now the city of Buffalo is taking advantage of that fact by launching a lawsuit against many of the biggest names in the firearms industry; blaming them for what officials acknowledge is a steady rise in crime despite the cornucopia of gun control laws in place across the state.

City leaders concede that gun violence in Buffalo is getting worse despite efforts by the Buffalo Police Department to curb gun violence.

Gun violence has surged in the city since 2020, when 355 people were killed or injured in shootings.

“As of March, 2021, the number of people shot in Buffalo over the first two months of the year jumped 140% compared to the same period [in 2020],” the city’s statement reads.

City officials said the goal of the lawsuit “is not to prevent legal gun ownership.”

“The city of Buffalo is not going to let these gun industry members continue to flood our City with illegally possessed guns,” said Cavette A. Chambers of the city Corporation Counsel. “We must hold them accountable.”

Chambers said city officials have been following public nuisance laws in New York “and will be considering additional defendants and causes of action as we get into discovery.”

Brown added, “The conduct of certain gun manufacturers has unreasonably interfered with the public’s right to use open space free from fear.”

That’s an argument that the firearms industry wholeheartedly rejects. Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, blasted the new lawsuit in a statement on Thursday afternoon, calling the litigation a “junk lawsuit” that’s an attempt to  “deflect attention for illegal activities by criminals by laying blame at the feet of the firearm industry.”

“This is no different from the frivolous and unsuccessful lawsuits filed against firearm manufacturers in the late 1990s and early 2000s by crime-ridden big-city mayors across the country,” Keane continued. “Those lawsuits failed because they were legally and factually baseless. But they did, however, result in Congress passing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in 2005 by a broad bipartisan margin.”

The gun control lobby has been looking for a way to revive their litigation strategy ever since, and believe they found a way around the PLCAA by pursuing litigation based on claims that the marketing by the firearms industry has created a public nuisance. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled several years ago that a lawsuit filed by several families and victims of the Sandy Hook murders could proceed under those grounds (the case was eventually settled by the gun maker’s insurance company), and since then a number of blue states have adopted that tactic, including the state of New York.

The goal here isn’t to “hold the industry” accountable. It’s to bring the industry to its knees; perhaps by a large verdict against the companies themselves, but if not then pursuing a “death by a thousand cuts” strategy of bleeding these companies dry by forcing them to pay attorneys to defend them against a wave of litigation.

Buffalo’s argument is that the city can’t keep up with the “flood of illegal guns” coming from firearms manufacturers, which is both absurd given the host of state and federal laws that the industry must comply with and an implicit admission that all of New York’s vaunted gun control laws are doing jack squat to actually stop criminals. If an increasing number of armed robbers, carjackers, home invaders, and gang members are causing mayhem and murder on the city streets, what does that say about New York’s permitting requirements for gun owners, its “universal background checks”, ban on so-called assault weapons, and the host of other restrictions on law-abiding gun owners that are in place?

Instead of suing the firearms industry, maybe Buffalo officials should aim their litigation at the governor and other anti-gun politicians in the state who’ve been falsely promising less crime and more safety with every new gun control bill they turn into law. Seems to me that’s where the truly deceptive and dangerous marketing has been taking place in the state, and as long as New Yorkers keep buying the bull that people like Cuomo and Gov. Kathy Hochul are peddling, I doubt that things are going to get any better in Buffalo, Rochester, or any of the other cities in the state that have seen a rapid rise in crime over the past few years.