Managers at the Bob Moates Sport Shop were spoiling for a fight when they found out New York City was suing the Virginia store over the way it sold firearms.
Workers hung Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s photo on a shotgun rack over the words “our worst enemy.” The shop in Midlothian, Virginia, decorated with Confederate flags, mockingly held a “Bloomberg Gun Giveaway” to finance its legal defense. One manager called the mayor “an idiot.”
Two years later, the case in Brooklyn federal court will have a much more subdued ending — likely to occur this week.
The business is poised to become the latest in a string of firearms dealers that have settled lawsuits accusing them of contributing to street crime in New York by making it easy for customers to get around rules intended to keep guns off the black market.
New York sued 27 shops in five states in 2006, claiming they had collectively sold hundreds of guns that wound up in criminals’ hands in New York.
The case in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York was viewed as an attempt by Bloomberg to send a message about lax enforcement of U.S. gun control laws, especially in states where it is relatively easy to buy a handgun. Among the states in which stores were sued were Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina.
Several shopkeepers initially promised a fierce fight, but those prospects have withered in the past two years.
Of the 27 dealers who were sued, four simply closed down or sold to new owners, saying the fight wasn’t worth the cost.
Another dealer had his license revoked by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for record-keeping violations. One stopped contesting the city’s case after being charged in federal court with knowingly selling a weapon to a convicted felon during an unrelated ATF sting. Three persuaded the city to drop them as defendants after producing records indicating that relatively few crime guns had been traced to their stores in recent years.
Almost all the rest entered into settlement agreements, taking deals to have a court-appointed monitor supervise their sales practices for three years. Many said the cost of opposing the city in court was too high. Moates’
withdrawal would leave just a single merchant still vowing to fight.
Jay Wallace, the owner of the Adventure Outdoors sporting goods store in Smyrna, Georgia, has countersued Bloomberg and other city officials for libel in Georgia, saying they wrongly branded him as a rogue gun dealer. That case is pending.
His store also remains a defendant in the city’s lawsuit. Wallace recently opted not to contest the suit at this stage in hopes of speeding an appeal to a court more favorable to the gun industry. But he said he has no intention of quitting until his reputation is restored.
“What if somebody got up and said you were a murderer?” Wallace asked. “Would you settle with them? Would you say, ‘That’s OK?’”
With other legal action relating to the case winding down, New York officials have claimed a measure of victory.
Since agreeing to have their business practices monitored, few of those stores have been linked to new crime guns, the city said.
“Our innovative litigation was aimed at holding accountable the small percentage of gun dealers who break the law — and it has worked,” said John Feinblatt, Bloomberg’s top aide on criminal justice issues.
Gun-rights groups are skeptical.
National Rifle Association spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said almost all the sued dealers were law-abiding to begin with and were “beaten into submission” by the city’s well-financed legal effort.