A federal judge said Friday that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration did not commit a crime when it sent undercover investigators into gun shops to attempt illegal weapons purchases as it prepared to sue the dealers.
In the sting operation two years ago, private investigators hired by the city wore hidden cameras and attempted "straw purchases," where one person fills out the legal forms and buys the gun for someone else.
The scam, prohibited by federal law, is typically employed by people who cannot own firearms, such as convicted felons.
Lawyers for some of the gun shops had argued the city had itself violated the law by attempting the illegal purchases.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak said Friday the court had found "that the city's actions do not constitute a crime or fraud" because an actual straw sale never happened. In the purchases made by the city's investigators, the buyers did not hand over the guns later.
"No 'straw' sale took place because ownership was never transferred," the judge wrote.
Both sides claimed victory. The city said the decision was good news for its case.
"What the court has said today is exactly what we've said — the only people who broke the law here were dealers who engaged in straw purchases," said John Feinblatt, Bloomberg's criminal justice coordinator.
The gun dealers, meanwhile, interpreted the decision as validation that they did nothing wrong because the court said no crime was committed.
"Our side is getting stronger every day," said Carl Pierce, attorney for some of the gun shops. "These people engaging in these sales weren't doing anything illegal."
The sting operation was conducted as the basis for a civil lawsuit brought by the city against 27 gun dealers in Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia; Bloomberg targeted shops that the city believes are responsible for selling guns traced back to crimes in New York City.
Gun rights advocates and organizations like the National Rifle Association have complained that Bloomberg's gun sting was a criminal stunt. And the Justice Department even did its own inquiry as to whether the city was out of bounds.
Fifteen dealers have settled and agreed to let a special master monitor their sales, and a lawsuit against several of the remaining 12 is proceeding in federal court in Brooklyn.
I think I'd be moving to make any Bloomberg lawsuit that still exists on this topic to be considered frivolous. I think the dealers suing him now have a really strong case.
You'd think that at least a charge of Conspiracy would be appropriate here. I suppose if you have enough money you can get out of anything.