ALBANY, N.Y. – New York's attorney general sued a gun accessory manufacturer Thursday for selling a lock that can be easily removed to attach high-capacity magazines, which are illegal in the state.
The white gunman who massacred 10 Black shoppers and workers in a Buffalo supermarket last year carried out the attack with a semiautomatic rifle he purchased legally, but then modified so he could load it with illegal high-capacity ammunition magazines, as previously reported.
New York law bans the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“We lost 10 innocent lives because a hate-fueled individual was able to make an AR-15 even deadlier through a simple change at home,” Attorney General Letitia James, an elected Democrat, said in a statement. “We cannot undo the devastating harm that was done, but this lawsuit against Mean Arms is part of our ongoing effort to pursue justice for the ten innocent lives that were unjustly taken.”
Email messages seeking comment from Woodstock, Georgia-based Mean Arms were not immediately returned.
Terry Connors, a lawyer who represents several families of the Buffalo massacre victims, as well as two people severely injured, said he welcomes the litigation.
“The claims made by the Attorney General are claims we are investigating as well," Connors said in an email. "Our goal is to hold all responsible for the horrific massacre at the Tops Market.”
Mean Arms deceptively advertised that installing a device that locks a magazine on an assault weapon makes it legal under New York law, the lawsuit alleges. But since the lock can be easily removed so detachable magazines can be inserted, the manufacturer aided the illegal possession of assault weapons in New York, James' office said.
Removing the lock enables shooters to fire rounds without having to pause to reload as often. According to James’ office, the manufacturer provides on its product packaging step-by-step instructions on how to easily remove the lock.
Through her lawsuit filed in the state's trial-level court, James seeks to stop Mean Arms from doing business in New York, require it to pay civil penalties and damages for practices that violated state law, and calls for the company to issue corrective statements regarding false and misleading statements on the lock, her office said.
The lawsuit is part of James' wider efforts to crack down on gun violence and enforce New York's gun safety laws. In March, her office secured a court order that stopped 10 gun distributors from selling ghost gun kits to New York.
After the then-18-year-old gunman carried out the Buffalo shooting in May, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a law in June that would prohibit anyone under 21 from buying semiautomatic rifles. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidated New York's old system for granting permits to carry handguns outside the home, and lawmakers in Albany quickly rewrote the state handgun laws. Those new, rewritten laws took effect in September and were challenged early and often in federal court.
Authorities say Payton Gendron targeted Tops Friendly Market, a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood, for the attack. Among his victims were a guard, a man shopping for a birthday cake, a grandmother of nine, and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86.
Gendron pleaded guilty in November to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in February. He was also charged in June with separate federal hate crimes, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.