James sues national gun distributors for fueling gun violence crisis

Letitia James
New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Associated Press / Richard Drew

New York Attorney General, Letitia James on Wednesday filed a landmark lawsuit against multiple gun distributors for fueling the gun violence crisis and endangering New Yorkers.

In her nation-leading lawsuit, James alleges that 10 gun distributors sold tens of thousands of illegal, unfinished frames and receivers to New Yorkers that were then converted into un-serialized, untraceable handguns and assault-style weapons, known as ghost guns.

The New York Attorney General said these gun distributors violated several laws, including New York’s licensing laws, by selling weapons to felons and others without a background check.

The lawsuit details how these businesses repeatedly undermined the law and flooded New York’s streets with illegal ghost guns that harmed New Yorkers.

For the first time, Attorney General James is invoking a newly-enacted Public Nuisance statute to hold these gun distributors responsible.

Following the US Supreme Court’s decision on New York’s gun laws, James said she is taking action to protect New Yorkers and combat the gun violence crisis.

The businesses named in the lawsuit are among the nation’s leading gun distributors, including Brownells Inc. (Brownells); Blackhawk Manufacturing Group (80 Percent Arms); Salvo Technologies, Inc. (80 P Builder or 80P Freedom Co); G.S. Performance, LLC (Glockstore); Indie Guns, LLC (Indie Guns); Primary Arms, LLC (Primary Arms); Arm or Ally, LLC (Arm or Ally); Rainier Arms, LLC (Rainier Arms); KM Tactical LLC; and Rock Slide USA, LLC (Rock Slide).

“While families mourned loved ones lost to senseless gun violence, gun sellers avoided accountability for the illegal and dangerous weapons they sold,” said Attorney General James. “There should be no more immunity for gun distributors bringing harm and havoc to New York.

“Today’s lawsuit holds 10 gun sellers accountable for fueling the gun violence crisis and endangering New Yorkers,” she added. “Illegal guns do not belong on our streets or in our communities and we will use every tool necessary to root them out.”

New York City Mayor, Eric Adams. Photo by Stefano Giovannini

New York City Mayor Eric Adams today simultaneously filed a lawsuit against five of these gun distributors, Arm or Ally, 80P Builder, Rockslide USA, Rainier Arms, and Indie Guns, in federal court.

“We are not going to let gun companies turn New York City into a city of mail-order murder,” said Adams. “Whether they are hidden in the trunks of cars or packed in a plain brown box, ghost guns are illegal in our city, and we will take every lawful action possible to stop gun retailers from profiting at the expense of the safety of our city.

“That’s why, this morning, the City of New York filed its own lawsuit against five online gun retailers that are illegally selling and delivering ghost gun components to addresses here in this city,” he added. “We will not stand by while illegal operators flout the law, endanger our communities, and kill our young people.”

An investigation by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) linked tens of thousands of shipments to New York addresses to these businesses dating back to 2017.

Undercover the OAG and New York City investigators were recently able to purchase unfinished frames online from three distributors, who shipped them into New York without serial numbers or a background check.

Based on the weight and size of the packages sent to the undercover investigators, the OAG said it has reason to believe tens of thousands of shipments sent by these businesses contain unfinished frames and receivers.

Local, state, and federal laws prohibit the sale of unfinished frames and receivers.

James said New York is grappling with a gun violence public health and safety crisis. A significant part of that crisis is attributable to an influx of homemade, un-serialized guns, commonly known as “ghost guns,” which are created using unfinished frames and receivers.

The attorney general said unfinished frames and receivers do not have serial numbers and can easily be used to make untraceable guns at home using basic tools. Unfinished receivers hold the upper, lower, and rear portions of a semiautomatic rifle together.

Purchasers of unfinished receivers only have to make a few small changes with a common drill press to transform an unfinished receiver into an operational one, James said.

Once milled, she said a receiver may be readily turned into a fully-assembled, illegal assault weapon.

Similarly, James said a purchaser of an unfinished frame can use commonly available tools to finish the frame, which may then be readily assembled into an untraceable handgun.

The process can be completed in less than an hour, even by an amateur, she said.

“These weapons are just as lethal as any other handgun or rifle but are sold directly to consumers without a background check or any federally-required record of their sale,” James said.

In many cases, the businesses named in Attorney General James’ lawsuit sold illegal unfinished frames and receivers to consumers with criminal records or other disqualifying conditions.

In May 2022, James said an individual with a criminal background, who was legally ineligible to own or operate a firearm, received shipments from Brownells after previously receiving shipments from Glockstore and Primary Arms.

That same month, James said that individual allegedly used a ghost gun in a triple shooting that killed one person and injured two others in the Bronx.

The OAG and New York City Law Department’s investigation found that Brownells and two other gun distributors, 80 Percent Arms and KM Tactical, known for their unfinished frames, receivers, and ghost gun kits, delivered orders to an individual living in New York who was a member of a far-right militia-style organization with a history of political violence.

New York Police Department (NYPD) investigators later recovered two un-serialized completed guns, 11 high-capacity magazines, four additional unfinished frames and receivers, as well as other gun-making tools, from where he was staying.

James said the businesses named in her lawsuit acknowledge in their marketing that the unfinished frames and receivers evade public safety measures.

In fact, in many instances they use that as a selling point, she said.

In clear violation of federal law, James said 80 Percent Arms writes on its website, “This means no RED TAPE including: NO Registering an 80% Lower, NO Transfer fees like a typical firearm, NO FFL Required, Ships right to your door.”

In addition, James said Glockstore touts on its website, “You can build a completely legal handgun without any ‘government oversight’ aka interference…No fuss, no muss, no registration, no records.”

The attorney general said these prohibited products are routinely bought online and shipped to addresses across the city and state.

She said some are also bought in neighboring states and driven into New York. For example, in November 2021, law enforcement officials seized $16,200 worth of unfinished frames and receivers from an individual who bought the illegal products at a gun show in Pennsylvania and was later apprehended in the Bronx.

Law enforcement officials claim that the individual planned to assemble the unfinished frames and receivers into complete, usable firearms and resell them illegally.

James said unfinished frames and receivers are “unquestionably illegal.”

She said that, under New York’s Jose Webster Untraceable Firearms Act and the Scott J. Beigel Unfinished Receiver Act, possession or sale of an unfinished frame or receiver is a felony, as is the possession or sale of a ghost gun made from one.

“These distributors are legally obligated to reasonably ensure that their illegal products do not enter New York,” said James, adding that “ghost guns are proliferating across the nation and are being used in crimes at an “exponential rate”.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the number of ghost guns recovered at crime scenes nationwide has increased more than elevenfold in just six years, from 1,758 in 2016 to 19,344 in 2021.

Throughout New York, including New York City’s five boroughs, James said the number of assembled ghost guns law enforcement recovered and properly identified, increased from just 44 in 2018 to 641 in 2021 — a 1,357 percent increase.

Moreover, as of June 17, 2022, the attorney general said there have been 373 recoveries of assembled ghost guns, putting New York on pace to recover over 800 ghost guns in 2022.

She said the rise in ghost guns coincides with the rise in homicide and suicide rate across the state and nation.

Through her lawsuit filed in New York County Supreme Court, James is seeking to ban each business from selling, shipping, distributing, or otherwise supplying unfinished frames or receivers lacking serial numbers to New Yorkers; as well as to obtain restitution and damages; elicit public corrective statements from the businesses regarding their false and misleading statements and omissions; and obtain disgorgement.

In addition, Attorney General James’ lawsuit seeks to require each business to contribute to an abatement fund to eliminate the public nuisance for which they are responsible. The abatement fund would be used to combat New York’s gun violence crisis.

“New York’s public nuisance law is a powerful tool for prosecutors and our communities to hold corporations accountable for irresponsible and reckless behavior, and today’s filing shows our attorney general will use these powers against businesses that knowingly flood our streets with deadly, untraceable weapons,” said State Sen. Zellnor Y. Myrie.

“We passed this law to put bad actors in the gun industry on notice: You can no longer operate with impunity in our state,” added the grandson of a Jamaican national, who represents the 20th Senate District in Brooklyn. “I’m proud of Attorney General James for today’s filing on behalf of all New Yorkers, and look forward to working with her, Gov. Hochul, and my other partners across government to take actions that protect New Yorkers from gun violence.”

Wednesday’s action builds on Attorney General James’ efforts to crack down on ghost guns and combat the gun violence crisis.

Earlier this month, she demanded that 28 statewide firearms sellers immediately stop advertising ghost gun parts.

In April 2021, Attorney General James sent a letter to U.S. DOJ urging them to strengthen federal regulations on ghost guns.

In February 2021, she led a coalition of 21 attorneys general from around the nation in filing an amicus brief in the case Grewal v. Defense Distributed before the U.S. Supreme Court, where the coalition fought a lawsuit that seeks to stop states from enforcing their laws against a company disseminating dangerous 3D-printed gun files on the internet.

In September 2019, James sent cease and desist letters to the companies behind a number of websites selling incomplete weaponry pieces to New Yorkers that could be easily assembled into illegal assault weapons.

In July 2020, Attorney General James announced that all the companies behind the sale of these firearms or firearms components had complied with her cease and desist letters and ended the sale of these weapons to New Yorkers.

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