JERSEY CITY - Jersey City today became the 33rd governmental entity in
the country since 1998 to sue the gun industry, charging that negligent
sales practices have helped create a black market in weapons for
As he announced the lawsuit on the front steps of City Hall, Mayor Glenn
D. Cunningham, a former Jersey City police captain, spoke of the
"devastating impact" illegal handguns in the hands of drug dealers,
gangsters and children have had on the quality of life in the city. In the
coming court fight, he said, the city will be as persistent as an unmerciful
gunman who keeps firing a weapon during a crime.
"We're going to keep shooting until we hit the gun manufacturers where
hurts," Mayor Cunningham said.
In 1996 and 1997, the lawsuit says, handguns were involved in a
"significant percentage" of the 42 murders, 2,430 robberies and 2,325
aggravated assaults in Jersey City. The suit does not cite more current
Without providing specific figures, the lawsuit says Jersey City spent
millions of dollars in recent years investigating and prosecuting crimes
committed with illegal handguns, treating gunshot victims in public
hospitals and providing increased security to keep guns out of schools.
suit asks that the industry be found liable and ordered to share in those
costs. It cites several manufacturers and trade associations, including
Smith & Wesson, Beretta U.S.A., Colt's Manufacturing and Glock Inc.
A Washington gun control group, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence,
joined the city in the suit. The Brady Center is now helping 26 city and
county governments, including New York City, that have sued the industry
the past four years.
The center's legal director, Dennis Henigan, said during Mayor
Cunningham's news conference that the gun industry had failed to take
reasonable steps to curb what he called a lax distribution system helping
fuel a profitable illegal market in guns. He and other speakers argued that
gun manufacturers sell weapons to dealers in Southern states with weak gun
control laws, and that many of those guns are then bought in bulk by people
who eventually sell them illegally in Northern states with tough control
The suit argues that such practices lead to crime and thus make the gun
industry a public nuisance, liable for the costs of preventing and fighting
In the past, gun rights advocates have sought to discount the
public-nuisance legal strategy that Jersey City adopted today, contending
that manufacturers cannot be held responsible for crimes resulting from
misuse of their products.
Mr. Henigan, of the Brady Center, said today that the public-nuisance
theory had been upheld recently by both a New Jersey trial court, in a
lawsuit that Newark had filed against the gun industry, and an Illinois
appeals court, in a case involving a Chicago police officer killed during
drug surveillance in 1998.
Jersey City's lawsuit was announced a day after Boston voluntarily
dropped its suit against the gun industry, citing the expense of a trial.
The Brady Center had helped Boston with its lawsuit, and Mr. Henigan today
called Boston's decision frustrating and disappointing. But he said he hoped
industry documents and information collected in the Boston case would be
valuable to other pending cases.
Previously, only four of the municipal and county suits had been
dismissed by the courts.