Brooklyn lawmaker wants state to toughen laws that hold gun makers accountable for violence

Police investigate the scene of a homicide on East 92nd Street and Kings Highway in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Amid a troubling spike in gun violence throughout the borough, central Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie has proposed a law that would hold gun manufacturers and dealers accountable for shooting deaths. 

“While communities of color have died disproportionately from gun violence and COVID-19 over the past five months,  gun manufacturers have seen their profits soar,” the freshman legislator said in a statement. “Something isn’t right with that equation.”

The legislation would amend the New York State criminal nuisance law to include gun manufacturers and sellers — making it illegal for them to “create or maintain a condition which endangers the safety or health of a considerable number of persons.” 

Myrie’s proposal would allow private citizens or government entities to sue any company that violates the statute. Similar actions were taken against lead paint manufacturers in California when a number of counties and cities sued in 2000, and by the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre, who were allowed by the Supreme Court to sue gun manufacturers. 

A federal law on the books since 2005 — dubbed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act — currently works to shield arms manufacturers and dealers from liability when their products are responsible for death and violence. The law, however, does not protect manufacturers who knowingly violate state laws meant to regulate the arms industry.

New York has tried to challenge the firearms industry with the criminal nuisance law before — including in 2008, when the state won a suit against the gun manufacturer Beretta, but the ruling was overturned on appeal when a federal court ruled that the existing law was too broad to be applied to weapons manufacturers. 

Myrie’s bill aims to add more specificity to the existing law in order for it to be applied more broadly.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie.
Photo by Ben Verde

The proposed law comes as gun violence in Brooklyn continues to rise, with parts of Myrie’s district in Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Flatbush faring the worst. City data shows shootings are up 117% in patrol borough Brooklyn South, and up 96% in Brooklyn North. Crown Heights’ 77th Precinct has seen 40 shootings so far in 2020, compared to just 16 on the same date in 2019. 

Local leaders have suggested multiple factors are responsible for the rise in violence, including a lack of economic opportunity due to the pandemic and warring gang factions, while some have sought to target the “iron pipeline” by which guns are purchased legally out of state and smuggled into the city. 

“Just as we held paint manufacturers accountable for lead poisoning. and tobacco companies accountable for irreparable damage to the nation’s health, so too should we begin the discussion of holding gun manufacturers, sellers, and dealers accountable for the scourge of gun violence,” said Myrie.

This story was first published on our sister news site, brooklynpaper.com.

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