New York officials on Wednesday filed suit against 10 companies that sell components for untraceable firearms known as ghost guns, under a new state law intended to hold the gun industry accountable for shootings.
Two lawsuits, filed separately by the office of the state attorney general, Letitia James, and the New York City Law Department, accuse the companies of illegally selling tens of thousands of gun frames and receivers over the last five years that were used to assemble assault-style weapons, helping to fuel a gun violence crisis across the state.
The lawsuits, the first under the state law passed last year, open a new chapter in efforts led by Democrats to crack down on firearms companies amid rising gun violence, despite opposition from the industry and its Republican allies.
They were filed six days after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority struck down a New York law requiring gun owners to show a special need to carry guns in public, a decision that many Democrats and gun safety advocates predicted would lead to more violence.
The Supreme Court ruling came as New York was contending with a sharp rise in gun violence during the pandemic, punctuated this year by mass shootings on the subway in Brooklyn, at a supermarket in Buffalo and near the Harlem River waterfront.
“While families mourned loved ones lost to senseless gun violence, gun sellers avoided accountability for the illegal and dangerous weapons they sold,” Ms. James said in a statement, adding that her office would “use every tool necessary to root them out.”
Ghost guns have been cast as a fast-growing menace fueling gun violence in New York and other states with strict gun laws. The weapons, which are sold in parts that can easily be assembled into operable guns using a drill, lack the serial numbers that allow guns to be traced back to the buyer and are sold online and at gun shows without proper background checks.
The city has said ghost guns are showing up in the city at an alarming pace. The number of ghost guns recovered by the police rose from 17 in 2018 to 263 in 2021. So far this year, the police have seized 175 ghost guns — 9 percent of all guns they have recovered.
Some have been found at crime scenes, while others were confiscated from children at school.Searches have turned up caches of more than 10 weapons at a time.
New York enacted laws last year banning the sale of ghost guns without a license and requiring gunsmiths to register guns or frames they assemble. Ms. James’s office sent cease-and-desist orders to 28 ghost gun sellers earlier this month. It was unclear whether any of the companies sued on Wednesday had received warnings.
The attorney general’s lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, names 10 companies as defendants: Brownells, Blackhawk Manufacturing Group, Salvo Technologies, G.S. Performance, Indie Guns LLC, Primary Arms, Arm or Ally, Rainier Arms, KM Tactical and Rock Slide USA.
The New York City Law Department also sued five of those companies in federal court in Manhattan. Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement that the companies had sold and delivered ghost gun components to addresses in the city.
“We will not stand by while illegal operators flout the law, endanger our communities and kill our young people,” he said.
A number of the companies named in the lawsuits sold parts used to assemble guns used in fatal shootings, including an incident in April that left Angellyh Yambo, 16, dead and two other teenagers injured as they walked home from school in the Bronx.
Since 2005, federal law has shielded gun manufacturers from most lawsuits seeking to hold them responsible for injuries or deaths. But the law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, contains an exception for cases in which the seller knowingly violates statutes regulating the sale or marketing of firearms.
New York lawmakers took advantage of that exception to create a path for the state, cities and individuals affected by gun violence to sue manufacturers, distributors and retailers for damages. The law classifies the improper and illegal sale of firearms as a public nuisance.
In May, a federal judge dismissed a challenge from some members of the gun industry who had argued that the law would be used unfairly to hold them responsible for the conduct of criminals who misuse their weapons. An appeal is pending.
Three states — California, Delaware and New Jersey — are considering or have passed measures modeled after New York’s law.
But nationally, the scales remain tilted in the gun industry’s favor. On Tuesday, Delaware became the first state to repeal a law modeled after the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, but similar measures remain on the books in 34 other states, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.