This week, at its annual convention in New York City, the NAACP plans to announce that it will file a class-action lawsuit against manufacturers, distributors and importers of handguns. The lawsuit will come on the heels of several suits filed against the industry by cities: Chicago, for example, charges that a glut of guns supplied to the suburbs has fueled an illegal market in cities, while New Orleans claims that safety devices on guns are inadequate. NAACP president Kweisi Mfume told TIME that the organization will seek not financial damages but injunctions ordering the industry to make several changes in its distribution and marketing practices. Among them: improved monitoring of distributors and retailers to better ensure that handguns don't wind up in criminals' hands, and firmer restrictions against selling more than one gun to an individual. "The proliferation has been an ongoing, evil threat to innocent men, women and children in our communities," Mfume said. "We've got to step up our advocacy."
For years, the NAACP has lamented the flood of handguns into African-American communities. Yet the nation's oldest civil rights organization has had little impact on curbing the proliferation. But the shooting tragedies in Littleton, Colo., and Conyers, Ga., plus the recent court victory against gun manufacturers in New York, may give the organization the political firepower it needs to advance its public-safety agenda.