February 2004

Downrange: 02/04

FIREARMS EXPERT CONVICTED. An antique weapons expert was convicted in December for his role in conspiring to inflate the prices of two historic pistols that he and another man sold to a wealthy collector, prosecutors said.

Michael Zomber, of Franklin, Tenn., was found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Goldman. He faces up to five years in prison under sentencing guidelines.

Zomber and Richard Ellis, a respected expert on Colt pistols, deceived a Pennyslvania collector, James Murphy, into thinking that he was in a bidding war for two pistols once owned by Texas Rangers Capt. Samuel H. Walker, prosecutors said. The guns, a pair of .44-caliber Colt revolvers, ultimately sold for $2.2 million, a price that prosecutors say was vastly inflated.

Ellis, of Moline, Ill., pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and agreed to cooperate against his accomplice.

The guns were among the first .44-caliber Colts manufactured and had been presented to Walker as gifts by gun magnate Samuel Colt in appreciation of his aid in their design.

Some historians suspect that the revolvers were in Walkerís possession when he was killed in combat in Mexico in 1847. Investigators said Ellis acquired one of the pistols, a Walker 1009, for $640,000, but arranged to sell it to Murphy for $1 million after showing him fake letters in which a fictional buyer claimed to be willing to pay that much for the gun.

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FIRST AND SECOND AMENDMENTS WIN IN VIRGINIA. A unanimous decision by the Fourth District Court of Appeals favors a 13-year-old whose Virginia school district threatened him with suspension for wearing a National Rifle Association shirt to school. A graphic on the shirt depicted the shooting sports. The Federal judges ruled that the dress code forbidding any reference to arms was overly broad, probably violated the First Amendment, and would likely prevent a student from wearing clothes featuring the Virginia flag because a spear and sword are depicted on the state seal. The ruling prohibits enforcement of the school districtís zero-tolerance dress code.

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NEWARK WITHDRAWS. In December, the city of Newark, New Jersey, voluntarily withdrew its lawsuit against firearms manufacturers. This follows a similar action by the city of Jersey City in November 2003, also withdrawing its lawsuit.

All the municipal cases filed since October 1998 against the firearms industry alleging liability for intentional crimes involving lawfully sold, non-defective firearms have either been dismissed or withdrawn, except those of Cleveland and New York City. Five such dismissals remain on appeal, including St. Louisís recently announced appeal, but twelve such cases have been fully and finally dismissed. Newark joins the two other cities whose cases have been dismissed without prejudice, but which have neither been refiled nor appealed.