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Boston Abandons Reckless Lawsuit

Friday, March 29, 2002

Boston became the first city to voluntarily abandon its baseless, reckless lawsuit against the firearm industry on Wednesday. The Dow Jones International News reported on Thursday that Mayor Thomas Menino (D) claimed the cost of going to trial was too high, and the growing list of court rulings rejecting similar cases limited the "evidence" the city would be able to present. As expected, though, reckless lawsuit proponents, including Mayor Menino, have tried to spin the failure of Boston’s nearly three-year harassment campaign against law-abiding gun makers as some sort of victory.

Menino claimed that the Boston suit forced gun makers "to take small steps to address our concerns." But Lawrence G. Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. (NSSF)—a defendant in the case— stated, "No concessions were made in exchange for the city’s actions. We are extremely pleased with the suit’s dismissal, but it is unfortunate and inappropriate that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino mischaracterizes industry safety efforts as being prompted by the city’s suit. The truth is that industry has been actively promoting nationwide safety efforts for decades, a fact previously acknowledged by the mayor."

According to the Dow Jones International News, Menino even tried to claim that the decision by gun makers to include a free locking device with the sale of each new firearm aided the plaintiffs in their decision, even though most gun makers had already decided to do this in 1997, nearly two years before Boston filed its suit, if not before.

NRA-ILA Executive Director James Jay Baker said of the decision to drop the suit, "It’s a lesson that other cities ought to take. Criminals are responsible for their own actions, not manufacturers of legal products." Baker also commented, "I don’t think they ever should have brought it, and the fact they agreed to have it dismissed with prejudice, meaning they can’t bring it up again, is a pretty clear indication that they had no case to start with."

Unfortunately, other cities don’t seem to be learning anything from the repeated failures of the reckless lawsuit campaign. As Boston decided, on Wednesday, it could no longer afford to waste taxpayer money on a suit it simply could not win, on Thursday, Jersey City filed its own suit.

Another court case in Massachusetts had a more troubling outcome. On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit dismissed a challenge to "Massachusetts’ Gun Control Act of 1998" as "unripe." The case centered around a provision of the ‘98 Act that requires anyone who possesses or wishes to possess a "large capacity weapon" or a "large capacity feeding device" to obtain a Class A license. The court held that the plaintiffs had not suffered hardship because they could apply for a license to possess the regulated items, so the case was not ripe for review. The decision leaves open and unresolved serious questions regarding how Massachusetts defines "large capacity weapons" and "large capacity feeding devices." This means that any otherwise law-abiding citizen, who is unable to determine if his firearm or feeding device is subject to the licensing requirement, could face criminal prosecution if he fails to acquire the license. The penalty for an honest mistake in this case is imprisonment for not less than 2 ½ years nor more than 10 years. The bottom line is, given the court’s unwillingness to decide in this civil case whether the terms at issue are unconstitutionally vague, such determinations will be made through criminal prosecutions.

The court also ludicrously upheld a ban on licensed gun clubs shooting at human-shaped silhouette targets, claiming that this prohibition aided the state in "preventing gun fatalities."

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.