The legal battle over new city gun-control laws turned into a war of words beyond the courtroom yesterday as Mayor Nutter laid into the two gun shops challenging the ordinances.
The lawyer for Colosimo's Inc. and Firing Line Inc. threatened to sue the mayor yesterday after Nutter lambasted them for selling multiple guns to individuals.
"These gun traffickers are not going to stop us from keeping the citizens of Philadelphia safe," Nutter said in a news conference before an afternoon court hearing on the five laws he signed into law last month. One of them limits gun purchases to one a month in an effort to curb "straw purchases," in which individuals buy multiple firearms for resale to felons and others forbidden to own guns.
C. Scott Shields, who spent the afternoon arguing the case against the laws in a City Hall courtroom, called Nutter's words "shocking."
"He may be inviting separate legal action for casting Colosimo's and the Firing Line in a false light," Shields said. "To suggest that they're engaged in illegal trafficking of handguns is outrageous."
Nutter's comments were the same as those in documents that city lawyers submitted to Common Pleas Court Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan yesterday. The documents outline the testimony of Joseph Vince, a former high-ranking agent in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Vince analyzed 3,075 crime guns traced to 82 dealers in Philadelphia - including Colosimo's and the Firing Line, he said - before 2004. Of those guns, 691, or 22 percent, came from Colosimo's alone, according to the filing.
"At best, Colosimo's knowingly continued its abysmally poor business practices shown by ATF to put guns into the hands of criminals," City Solicitor Shelley Smith and outside counsel Susan Burke wrote in the document. "At worst, Colosimo's knowingly traffics in crime guns."
Owner James Colosimo has attributed the number of crime guns traced to his shop to the large volume of business he does.
Yesterday, outside court, Colosimo referred questions to Shields, who said that Colosimo's record was "unblemished" and that the sale of multiple guns was "perfectly lawful."
"To take a shot at this man is disgraceful," Shields said.
Nutter's comments were part of a legal and political blitz by the city. To succeed in this case, the city would need the state Supreme Court - which is destined to hear the case - to reverse more than a decade of decisions putting all gun regulation squarely in the hands of the state.
Nutter launched that offensive April 10 by signing five City Council bills that, in addition to the restriction on handgun purchases, ban certain assault weapons, require owners to report lost or stolen firearms, and prohibit gun possession by people subject to a protection-from-abuse order or deemed a threat to themselves or others.
The National Rifle Association, the gun shops, and others won a temporary restraining order preventing the city from enforcing the laws; yesterday's hearing was to determine whether Greenspan would issue a permanent injunction.
Greenspan said she would accept final briefs Friday and rule "soon thereafter."