Bloomberg's Folly

NYC gun stings


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was angry that guns bought outside his city were used to commit crimes inside it. So in 2006 he sent private eyes to entrap gun store operators in five other states. His agents tricked the stores into going along, on hidden camera, with "straw purchases," in which one person fills out the legal paperwork required to own a gun while clearly planning to hand the weapon off to someone else.

As a result of its successful stings, the city filed civil suits against 27 gun stores, charging them with negligence and creating a public nuisance. Fourteen of the stores settled. They agreed that New York can send in snoops to examine their records and inventory, videotape all activities, and instruct the stores' employees in proper gun sale behavior. They also had to post a bond covering the fines they'll be liable for if New York's agents catch them violating any aspect of the agreement.

But Bloomberg has gotten some blowback for his attempt to hold stores responsible for the actions of gun-toting criminals, most of whom get their weapons in the black market, not directly from stores. Two stores have filed countersuits.

Jay Wallace, a dealer in Smyrna, Georgia, is suing various parties associated with the action against him for $400 million for defamation and interference with his legitimate business practices. Larry Mickalis of Summerville, South Carolina, has filed a similar suit. New York City tried unsuccessfully to get both suits, which were filed in federal courts based in the respective states, moved to a federal court in New York. The cases have not yet gone to trial.

However those suits are resolved, Bloomberg already has lost some momentum on this issue. The U.S. Department of Justice refused to prosecute any of Bloomberg's targets. It told Bloomberg in February that his actions lacked "proper law enforcement authority" and opened agents he sent out on such stings to "potential legal liabilities." Virginia, one of the states hit by Bloomberg's sting, passed a law in July threatening future stingers with felony charges.