Along with companies like Smith & Wesson, Glock, and Beretta, the lawsuit names Caso's Gun-A-Rama, a retail gun store that has conducted business in Jersey City for 35 years.
"We've got to get illegal guns out of people's hands," said Mayor Glenn Cunningham on the steps of City Hall, flanked by an array of anti-gun organizations.
Calling this legal action an outgrowth of his anti-crime initiative, Cunningham blamed gun manufacturers for flooding the market with more guns than the law allows to be distributed. The consequence, he said, is that corrupt gun retailers wind up supplying an illegal underground market.
Frank Caso, owner of the Jersey City gun shop, does not consider himself a corrupt gun retailer. "We're licensed by the state of New Jersey to sell these items," Caso said. "If you want to sue somebody, sue New Jersey."
Caso said he supplies the Jersey City Police Department with many of its firearms and has never had a problem with one of his guns being illegally obtained.
"I'm really upset about the whole thing," Caso said of the lawsuit. He first learned about it from news media crews after the press conference. "Instead of spending your money like that, why not spend it educating the people [about guns]," he said.
The lawsuit states, "This defendant [Caso's] has sold guns that have been associated with criminal conduct in Jersey City."
According to Cunningham, the lawsuit does not cost the city any money. The city has managed to do the necessary paperwork in-house and will be working with the Brady Center, an anti-gun lobbying group, during the course of the lawsuit.
Point of the lawsuit
The main issue behind the lawsuit is the excessive amount of guns manufactured. According to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, over 50 percent of the guns traced to crimes originate with only 1.2 percent of licensed gun dealers. This leads anti-gun lobbyists to believe that the guns are somehow being brokered between manufacturers and a black market.
According to Bryan Miler, executive director of the anti-gun organization Ceasefire New Jersey, gun traffickers purchase firearms in states with weak gun laws and sell them on the black market in states with stringent gun legislation like New Jersey.
Cunningham said he hopes the lawsuit will encourage gun manufacturers to change their ways of mass production so that the black market has less access to new supplies. He added that the any financial settlements that emerge from the lawsuit would pay for the economic burden gun violence has placed on taxpayers.
Gun violence, city officials said, calls for extra dollars for medical care, emergency services, police protection, courts, and school security.
In addition, the families of victims are strapped with hospital bills, Cunningham said.
According to the Brady Center, the direct cost of firearm injuries is more than $4 billion per year. The lawsuit does not mention a specific amount it seeks.
But gaining a victory is a longshot in itself, as the courts dismissed 14 of the other 32 municipalities that filed the same lawsuit. Most recently, the city of Boston's lawsuit fell prey to a court dismissal.
Dennis Henigan, director of the Brady Center's Legal Action Project, said that New Jersey's moderate political climate could be the necessary ingredient for nabbing a victory, as opposed to the strong gun industry lobby that exists in states like Louisiana. The suit was filed in the Hudson County superior court.
Similar suits filed by Newark and Camden are still pending.
Beginning in 1998 with New Orleans, the lawsuit has gained momentum in cities nationwide including metropolitan areas such as Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Detroit. The Brady Center has helped spearhead the lawsuits by providing legal assistance for 26 of 33 local governments that have filed suit so far.