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Buffalo takes on gunmakers with pioneering lawsuit

The action comes after the city in western New York saw 140% more people shot in 2021 than it did the year prior.

BUFFALO (CN) — The city of Buffalo sued a slew of gunmakers Tuesday, accusing them of oversupplying weapons and using marketing tactics that have fueled gun violence in the city. In May, the city was rattled after a white teenage gunman killed 10 people at a Tops supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo. 

Among the defendants in Erie County Supreme Court are major gunmakers Smith & Wesson, Glock, Remington and Beretta, as well as several ghost gun manufacturers. 

Represented by attorneys at Napoli Shkolnik in Melville, N.Y., the city of Buffalo says these gun makers oversaturated the legitimate market with firearms, giving way to a secondary, underground trade. Buffalo says the manufacturers could have been targeting people who would use weapons to commit crimes, noting that the advertising for the weapons tends to emphasize high capacity and easy concealment.

"Gun manufacturer advertisements often combine the promise of an adrenaline rush with violent undertones," the 194-page lawsuit states, finding an example in a Smith & Wesson ad captioned, "Kick Brass." Other ads compare real guns to the video game "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare."

Buffalo also accuses the manufacturers of keeping their supply lines open even after the distributors buying the guns were found to sell “disproportionately high volumes of guns traced to crime scenes."

In contrast to manufacturers in other industries that are required to alert the public to risks of harm through the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the complaint continues, the gunmakers failed to monitor injuries, deaths and crimes associated with their weapons.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown called the lawsuit the first of its kind, since it is broader than a similar suit in New York City targeting ghost guns. Brown said that enforcing public nuisance claims can save lives. 

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

The city cited growing concerns over gun violence, stating that as of March 2021, the number of people shot was 140% higher than that of the same period the year prior. Each year in Buffalo roughly 800 to 950 guns are taken off the street, according to WIBV4, and the number of ghost gun removals is rising quickly. 

“We must do everything we can to decrease gun violence,” Brown said in a statement. “Enabling the possession of illegal guns destroys lives and deeply affects our neighborhood, especially in Black and Brown communities.”

Authorities say that in the May shooting t Tops, gunman Payton Gendron used a semiautomatic rifle purchased legally in Pennsylvania. Charged with domestic terrorism, Gendron last month pleaded guilty to the racist attack. He faces life in prison. 

“Gun violence is only getting worse, and it is impacting the entire community. The city of Buffalo decided to move forward and bring change,” Salvatore C. Badala, a partner at Napoli Shkolnik, said in a statement. 

In August, New York State Attorney General Letitia James joined a separate lawsuit against Glock, filed by the victim of an April shooting on the New York City subway. That suit, too, accuses the company of making more weapons than a legitimate market could handle and building business by targeting people who may commit gun violence. 

As the complaint notes, Glock shows up in entertainment across the media: It’s used by police officers in "Law and Order." Bruce Willis has a Glock in the movie "Die Hard 2." And rappers like Tupac, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg all name-dropped the brand in music in the early 1990s. 

James on Tuesday praised Buffalo’s decision to file its own claims against gunmakers. 

“New Yorkers should not have to fear going into a grocery store, church, or public space because of the threat of gun violence or racism,” James said in a statement. “I commend the city of Buffalo for taking decisive action to hold gun manufacturers and distributors accountable for the harm they are creating in our communities and to protect everyday New Yorkers.”

Courthouse News reached out to several gunmakers named in the suit but did not receive responses by press time. 

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