As Mayor Bloomberg gets ready to head to out on another trip to lobby for stricter guns laws, this time to Pennsylvania, some are questioning whether his crusade against gun dealers is going to have to a real effect on curbing the number of illegal guns that end up on city streets.
Five of the 15 out-of-state gun dealers the city targeted in a federal lawsuit in May have settled with the city; two have sued, saying their reputations had been smeared, and the others have yet to announce how they plan to proceed.
Mr. Bloomberg has touted the settlements as "landmark agreements" that will "send a message that reckless sale of firearms will not be tolerated."
"By increasing monitoring and accountability among these gun dealers, we're making sure that these guns don't end up on New York City streets or those of other cities across our country," he said on Friday when announcing the latest settlement with three dealers.
Not everyone is convinced the special monitors will translate into fewer guns being used in crimes in the five boroughs.
The director of New York University's Center for Research in Crime and Justice, James Jacobs, said the settlements would at best convince some gun dealers to be more vigilant about record-keeping, but would not prevent guns from illegally entering the city.
"The initiative itself cannot have much of an impact," he said. "A really brazen criminal is not likely to go in the store. You could wait outside, tell someone you'll give them $50 extra if they go in and buy the gun."
The problem, Mr. Jacobs said, is that the bulk of illegal guns entering New York and other municipalities don't necessarily come from corrupt dealers. Many guns are stolen or sold second-hand, he said.
The 15 dealers targeted by the city appear to have been less vigilant, but are probably not responsible for the influx of illegal guns into the city, he said.
In announcing the lawsuit in May, Mr. Bloomberg called the gun dealers targeted in the lawsuits the "worst of the worst." Data from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the mayor's most enthusiastic backers, show that nationwide, dealers with the greatest number of guns traced to crimes are not on the mayor's hit-list. One of the defendants in the lawsuit, Peddler's Post, had a total of nine gun crimes traces between 1994 and 2001. The quickest a gun moved to New York from the Ohio store was 120 days.
A gun crime trace means that at some point after a gun left the store it was used in a crime, but it does not mean the dealer committed a crime.
Aides to Mr. Bloomberg say the sting operations were modeled after a similar operation in Chicago that led to a 62% decrease in the number of crime guns recovered within a year of their sale.
The communications director of the Brady Campaign, Peter Hamm, said the organization was proud of the settlements achieved by the city.
"It's extraordinarily hard and extraordinarily rare to get these settlements," he said. "This is not litigation against dry cleaners or dishwasher repair people. This is litigation against an industry that makes products that kill people, but they don't ever want to be held liable."
Mr. Bloomberg has made his crackdown on illegal guns a signature of his second term, and has outlined a three-pronged approach to tackling the problem that includes: increasing enforcement, lobbying the Legislature, and "innovative litigation." Tomorrow, he is scheduled to travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to lobby for stricter gun laws in the state. Legislators there are submitting a package of gun control bills at a special session on crime.
Earlier this year, the city hired a private investigation firm, the James Mintz Group, at the price of $800,000 to conduct the sting operations on gun dealers in five states. It ultimately led to the lawsuits against 15 dealers.
The investigators simulated "straw purchases," where an individual fills out the paperwork and pays for a gun that is clearly for another person. The lawsuits are now pending in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York.
The research director at the Independence Institute in Colorado, Dave Kopel, said the settlements should come as no surprise.
"For the gun dealer, it's a win-win situation," he said. "Even if the lawsuit doesn't have much merit, the small business can say,ĎI can get out of this at no cost now, or I can fight this for years for thousands of dollars.'"
Four of the five dealers contacted by The New York Sun said they settled because they couldn't afford to fight.
"It's financial," the owner of AAA Gun and Pawnbroker in Georgia, Gregory Driggers, 50, said. "Bloomberg's got a hundred lawyers. I got one, and I can't even afford him. He ain't winning anything. He needs to go out there and find the people who are committing the crimes, not the gun dealers."
The city will pay for the monitors, who will be former law enforcement officials or judges, but will fine the dealers incrementally each time they break the law.