U.S. News

Gun dealer takes on New York City in court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s crusade against illegal guns entered the courtroom on Tuesday in a battle against a Georgia gun dealer.

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It is the first of two civil cases New York has brought against 27 gun dealers in five states -- Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia -- on the grounds that their sales practices allowed criminals to buy guns and then bring them into the city.

All but one dealer in the first lawsuit -- Jay Wallace -- has settled out of court. Wallace, 51, owner of a sporting goods store in the Atlanta, Georgia, suburb of Smyrna, vowed to fight on, likening his battle to David versus Goliath.

“I believe that I care more about firearms getting into criminals’ hands than the mayor of New York City does,” Wallace was quoted by local media has having said at Brooklyn federal court. “I’m in the business. I know how my business is run.”

Jury selection for the trial began on Tuesday.

City lawyers said Bloomberg had planned to testify about the toll illegal guns have taken on the city, but last week U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein rejected that idea, saying Bloomberg’s testimony would do nothing to advance the city’s case and could instead create a “media circus.”

The city has accused dealers like Wallace of allowing “straw purchases,” a transaction where one person shops for a gun and then has someone else fill out the required federal forms to pass a background check.

The guns are then sold on New York City streets for twice or three times their original price, police say.

The city caught some dealers by hiring undercover private detectives with hidden cameras to carry out straw purchases.

The second trial is expected to begin in July.

Nationally, the black market is the source for guns used in more than 90 percent of gun crimes. Since Bloomberg became mayor in 2002, every gun homicide in the city has been committed with an illegal gun, police say.

More than 300 people were killed in New York City by illegal guns last year, with nearly all of the guns coming from out of state, said Bloomberg, who has made the campaign against illegal guns a centerpiece of his second term in office.

“Where is the outrage in this country? Well, mayors see it,” Bloomberg has said. “We’re the ones who have to go to the funerals. We’re the ones that have to look somebody in the eye and say your spouse or your parent or your child is not going to come home.”

In 2006, Bloomberg co-founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that has grown to some 321 mayors.

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Vicki Allen