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Atty. Ralph D. Sherman

130 West Main Street • New Britain, Connecticut 06052

tel. (860) 229-0213 • fax (860) 229-0235 • e-mail


Legal Opinion

February 1999

A few bad dealers


By now anyone who reads this column is aware that several U.S. cities have filed lawsuits against many gun manufacturers, wholesalers, and dealers. Most of these lawsuits are based on a claim that guns are unreasonably dangerous products because they can be fired by "unauthorized users." Those who saw my op-ed piece in the Hartford Courant on February 19 know that I hold a low opinion of these lawsuits and the attorneys and politicians who are behind the lawsuits.

But the lawsuit filed by the City of Chicago is a little different. (You can download a copy of the initial court document from the web site of the Violence Policy Center, Chicago has alleged that several nearby dealers have been selling guns improperly. To support the allegation, Chicago police officers were sent undercover to buy guns at various shops. If the officers' reports are accurate, then there is definitely a problem.

For example, the court filing says that on more than one occasion, two undercover officers entered a gun shop and posed as customers. By their conversation they made it clear to the clerk that customer "A" wanted to buy a gun for customer "B" because "B" was ineligible to buy a gun legally. No problem, said the clerk, who readily sold the gun to "A." In fact, according the undercover officers, some clerks volunteered suggestions on how the "customers" could break the law and get away with it.

Obviously this type of activity by dealers is a problem. It needs to be stopped. But the bigger problem is the activity - or inactivity - of the police.

Any dealer who knowingly sells a firearm to a "straw man" is committing at least one federal crime and probably a state crime, too. If there are dealers who will do this as readily as the ones cited in the Chicago lawsuit, why aren't undercover police making arrests? What about BATF? What message does this send to the large majority of gun dealers, who abide by the thousands of federal and state gun laws?

The fact is, suing the manufacturers - as if they're responsible for the misbehavior of a few dealers - lets the bad dealers get away with crime and puts a financial burden on the rest of the industry. Indirectly the burden will come down to the law-abiding dealers. Tragically, federal law enforcement continues to be unwilling to do its job in this area, as shown by the lack of arrests of felons who attempt to buy guns but are stopped by the instant check. At the state level, Democrats have proposed spending half a million dollars to give away trigger locks, but not a penny for investigators to track illegal gun sales.

If ever there were a demonstration of the claim that "we don't need new laws, we just need to enforce what we have," this is it.


Copyright 1999 by Ralph D. Sherman

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