The revolver used in the shooting of Police Officer Kevin Brennan has a controversial history, and a reputation as a poorly made street gun that was likely passed from hand to hand over a period of many years and may have been used in other crimes before it got to would-be killer Luis Soto.
The RG 40, a .38-caliber revolver with a two inch barrel, and its brethren are cheap, easy to use knockoffs of a standard Colt design. Critics say the weapon have no useful purpose other than to kill people at close range.
Firearms experts say the company which distributed the weapon, RG Industries, a Florida subsidiary of the German manufacturer, Rohm, went out of the gun business in the mid-1980s, so the weapon that Soto used to shoot Brennan could be more than two decades old.
“Nothing unusual about it being an older gun,” a retired police officer says. “You can pass all the laws in the world, it’s not going to stop people from getting firearms. There’s a lot of guns on the street.”
Soto is accused of shooting Brennan in the head Tuesday evening. Soto had just fired two bullets at two civilians during a dispute. Brennan tackled Soto during a chase, and the gun discharged.
On internet bulletin boards, the guns are valued at rock bottom prices–anywhere from $30 to $80 and nicknamed “Rotten Gun,” “Real Garbage, and “Reagan Gun.” (John Hinckley used a .22 caliber version of the gun in his 1981 assassination attempt.)
The 2011 Standard Catalog of Firearms dismisses them as “of low quality, junk.” “That’s one ugly piece of shit gun,” a gun dealer tells the Voice.
RG model guns also show up repeatedly in criminal indictments for possession of illegal weapons, court records show. “It sounds like these are older guns floating around in unregulated gun markets,” says Daniel Vice, a senior attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
During the 1980s, the gun manufacturer, was the subject of repeated product liability lawsuits. In the wake of the shooting of President Ronald Reagan, Thomas Delahanty, a Washington, D.C. Police officer wounded by Hinckley sued the manufacturer, alleging it was negligent in producing the weapon. James Brady, a Reagan administration official also wounded by Hinckley, also sued RG Industries.
In a subseqent 1985 lawsuit, a California woman named Diane Moore sued the company, after she and a friend were shot by her husband with a .25 caliber RG pistol. The shooting left Moore a quadraplegic, court records show. Moore sued the company claiming the handgun’s design was defective, because it was small, easily concealed, cheap and “served no useful social purpose.” The court, applying product liability law, rejected the lawsuit and subsequent appeals.
On the other hand, in a similar case, a Maryland court held that makers and dealers of “Saturday Night Specials” could be held liable for injust inflicted by gun users during a crime. That court concluded that the harm caused by the firearms greatly outweighed their usefulness in society. “It is entirely consistent with public policy to hold the manufacturers and markets of Saturday Night Special handguns strictly liable to innocent persons who suffer gunshot injuries from the criminal use of their products,” the court wrote.
These days, courts still won’t entertain lawsuits which seek to hold gun makers liable for the products themselves, but the Brady Campaign has won settlements against gun makers for irresponsibly distributing their products.
In the wake of the DC sniper case, the campaign won a $2.5 million settlement from the maker of the rifle that was used for selling the weapon through a high-risk dealer and not maintaining proper records of the sales.
In a Massachusetts case, the campaign won $600,000 from a gun maker for essentially failing to secure its factory and allowing convicted felons to work there.
Mayor Bloomberg has a anti-gun campaign with dozens of other mayors which focuses on illegal sales of firearms.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 2, 2012