Smith & Wesson Sues New Jersey

Gun company accuses Dem leaders of violating First Amendment

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December 17, 2020

One of the country's largest gun manufacturers has filed a federal suit accusing the state of New Jersey of violating its First Amendment rights.

Smith & Wesson sued the state Tuesday in response to a broad subpoena issued by New Jersey attorney general Gurbir Grewal (D.). The case, filed in federal district court, seeks to have the subpoena—which demanded a decade's worth of advertising and sales records—thrown out and declared unconstitutional.

"The New Jersey Attorney General has taken a series of actions to suppress Smith & Wesson's speech, and with the intention of damaging Smith & Wesson both financially and reputationally," the complaint from the company said. "The most recent such action is the issuance of an administrative subpoena … on October 13, 2020 that allegedly seeks evidence of consumer fraud relating to advertising – but in reality, it seeks to suppress and punish lawful speech regarding gun ownership in order to advance an anti-Second Amendment agenda that the Attorney General publicly committed to pursue."

Grewal's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said New Jersey's subpoena is part of a concerted effort to hobble the gun industry through frivolous court proceedings. Such probes are meant to "get to discovery" in the hopes of forcing gun companies to agree to new regulations in legal settlements, according to Keane.

"They will … try to impose through settlements [gun-control] measures they can't get passed through Congress or in the states," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "It's regulation through litigation."

Keane compared the new legal movement to one in the 1990s that tried to run up gun companies' legal bills through cases attempting to hold them responsible for the criminal acts of third parties. The extensive litigation inspired the bipartisan Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which guaranteed liability protection to gunmakers.

William Yeatman, a research fellow at the Cato Institute's Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies, told the Free Beacon that Smith & Wesson faces an uphill battle, as state law gives Grewal a great deal of discretion in issuing subpoenas.

"In this context, New Jersey has tremendous latitude to investigate," he said. "Nevertheless, there are limits, and AGs generally aren't allowed to go on fishing expeditions, especially when constitutional rights are possibly at play."

Keane said the suit is a reminder that the gun industry will not back down from legal fights it believes are mainly intended to put gunmakers out of business.

"It is a signal to gun-control groups, the white-shoe law firms, and anti-gun politicians that the industry is not going to take this lying down any more than we did 20 years ago," he said. "We were underestimated 20 years ago and they're underestimating us now."