Inside the historic suit that the gun industry and Republicans are on the verge of killing

Inside the historic suit that the gun industry and Republicans are on the verge of killing

by Vernal Coleman, ProPublica

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As America emerged from the pandemic, communities continued to experience a rising tide of gun violence. School shootings and the rate of children and teens killed by gunfire both reached all-time highs since at least 1999. ProPublica’s coverage of gun violence reveals how first responders, policymakers and those directly affected are coping with the bloodshed.

Twenty-five years ago, Scott King, then mayor of Gary, Indiana, spoke solemnly as he described a new strategy the city was taking to deal with the flow of illegally purchased guns fueling violent crime there.

Undercover Gary police officers had fanned out across the area for Operation Hollowpoint, successfully purchasing guns and ammunition at federally licensed firearm retailers despite representing themselves as suspicious buyers. King presented surveillance footage in an 18-minute video produced by the city.

Inside one pawn shop, a bespectacled clerk and two undercover police officers are shown discussing a 9 mm pistol. After the male officer admitted he did not have the permit required to buy the gun, the female officer accompanying him told the clerk she did. The clerk then suggested she buy the gun on her partner’s behalf in violation of federal gun restrictions.

“Might as well put it in your name then so I don’t have to make a call,” the clerk responded. “The feds are constantly screwing with people.”

The footage, which documented four suspicious purchases at different retailers selling guns, showed “how easy juveniles, felons and other prohibited purchasers can acquire guns from legitimate gun dealers through the use of a straw purchaser,” King said in the video.

The stings formed the basis of the city’s historic lawsuit seeking to hold local gun retailers and major gun manufacturers, such as Smith & Wesson, Glock and others, responsible for illegal sales like those uncovered in the investigation. As part of the suit, the city sought monetary damages and changes in industry practices.

Relentless legislative and legal efforts across the country have eliminated a flurry of lawsuits initiated by cities against the industry two decades ago. A bill approved by the Indiana legislature and signed into law this month by Gov. Eric Holcomb may be the final blow to Gary’s suit, the last one standing from that original group of cases.

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