A South Carolina judge has ruled that counter suits by a South Carolina gun dealer against Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York City over tactics used against out-of-state gun dealers, accusing Mr. Bloomberg and the city of, among other charges, conspiracy, fraud and defamation by speaking ill of them in the press, can go ahead. The ruling allows Mr. Bloomberg to be sued in his private capacity and thus be potentially personally liable for damages. The judge also ordered that Mayor Bloomberg sit for a deposition in New York.
The counter suit was filed in response to city lawsuits against gun dealers in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia alleging that the dealers sold firearms to people whom they knew were likely to quickly resell them to criminals, resulting in the firearms ending up in criminals’ hands in New York. Some of the dealers settled the suits and agreed to work with a court-appointed monitor, but counter suits were instituted by the owners of gun-selling stores in South Carolina and Georgia. The judge, Roger M. Young, a State Circuit Court judge in Berkeley County, explained this unusual allowing of the Mayor to be sued in his individual capacity by saying that the sting operation Mr. Bloomberg ordered up against the shops went beyond the duties of a New York mayor.
“Reasonable minds could differ as to whether Defendants’ conduct reaches the threshold requirement of extreme and outrageous behavior necessary to support the Plaintiff’s claim,” the judge wrote.
Appellate review of the decision is likely at some point unless the case is settled. The city began its sting by singling out about 45 dealers in South Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia whose guns officials said had been used in hundreds of shootings and other crimes in New York City from 1994 to 2001.
Last year, attempting to prove that out-of-state stores contribute to crime in New York City, Bloomberg’s office hired private investigators who wore hidden cameras while trying to make “straw purchases” from federally licensed gun dealers in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia. “Straw purchases” are purchases in which one person fills out the legal forms and buys a gun for someone else. Usually a woman and man would enter the store. The man would ask all the questions about the gun, while the woman roamed around uninterested. When it was time to buy the gun, the woman would fill out the paperwork. The practice of “straw purchases” is prohibited by federal law and is typically used by those who cannot legally own firearms, such as convicted felons.
In May 2006, Bloomberg announced that the city was filing a civil lawsuit in federal court against 15 gun dealers who allegedly allowed such purchases to take place.
The counterclaims followed. The South Carolina ruling is the second such blow to the city recently. In September, a federal judge in Atlanta refused the city’s request to dismiss the defamation suit by Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, whose attorney is former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr.
The gun dealers are not without support from the federal government. Five months ago, The Second Amendment Foundation called on U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate Bloomberg for obstruction of justice relating to Bloomberg’s “rogue” operation. Federal investigators have told New York officials there is not enough evidence to file criminal charges against any of the gun shop owners, according to court papers.
The U.S. Department of Justice has warned the City that its sting could leave it legally liable. The federal government confirms it is investigating New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s sting operation against gun dealers in five states. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has confirmed that the agency is investigating the matter in order to determine if violations of federal firearms laws occurred.
“The response by the Bush Administration’s Justice Department to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking come across as an effort to silence the messenger rather than respond to the problem of a rise in violent crime,” according to Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Also, Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell (R), in an effort to end the Straw Purchase stings, sent a letter to Bloomberg referring to the Second Amendment and reminding him that Virginia’s House Bill 2653 – which prohibits gun dealer entrapment schemes – would go into effect this past summer. With the new law having gone into effect in July, Bloomberg and his agents could face legal action and be charged with a felony if they do not cease their “sting” operations.
Some stores are conducting contests to counter-attack the Mayor, with the winners receiving a Para-Ordnance handgun worth around $900 or a Browning Varmint Stalker rifle, also worth about $900. These contests are being sponsored by pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Bloomberg’s face is on a poster taped to a shotgun rack at a store under the words “Here are our worst enemy.” One store owner reported that business had never been so good during the month that the contest was going on. Confederate flags, anti-Yankee bumper stickers and Civil War relics on display at another of the stores.
After filing the lawsuit, Bloomberg called the gun shop owners “the worst of the worst” and said they “have New Yorkers’ blood on their hands.” The contest has only further agitated Bloomberg, who has made gun control a top priority in his second term.
“These are sick people,” Bloomberg said in January at the Mayors Against Illegal Guns summit in Washington. “And if they think that this is funny, I don’t think that the parents or the spouses or the children of those that get killed with illegal guns would find that very entertaining.”
It is difficult to fathom how an attempt to keep guns from killing people on the streets of New York City, even if one believes the mayor over-reached, could reasonably be considered extreme and outrageous. Perhaps Mr. Bloomberg’s statement that he was not running for President because he could not be elected President was prompted by his perception that such twisted logic pervaded too much of the country.