The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People proved its members "did suffer relatively more harm from the nuisance created by the defendants through illegal availability of guns in New York," U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein wrote in a 175-page decision.
"It failed, however, to show that its harm was different in kind from that suffered by other persons in New York," Weinstein added.
Despite the ruling against the group, the judge found that its lawyers had established "clear and convincing evidence" that gun retailers are guilty of "careless practices."
Manufacturers take too few measures, he wrote, "to eliminate or even appreciably reduce the public nuisance they individually and collectively have created." Among the "obvious steps," he said, would be requiring retailers to ban multiple sales to the same customers.
Gun control is one of the most controversial political issues in the United States. The right to arm is constitutionally protected, though states and cities have limitations on who can buy guns. Since 1998, more than two dozen cities, counties and states have sued gun makers, many claiming the manufacturers allowed weapons to reach criminals because of irresponsible marketing.
A gun industry spokesman, Lawrence Keane, said he had not seen the ruling, but welcomed the outcome.
"It's regrettable that the industry ever had to defend itself against such a frivolous lawsuit," said Keane, general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Calls to the NAACP and its lawyers were not immediately returned.
Weinstein's decision follows a trial that concluded in May with an advisory jury clearing 45 gun manufacturers and distributors of negligence.
The NAACP sued Smith & Wesson, Glock and other major gun makers in 1999, claiming they knew corrupt dealers were supplying products to criminals in black and Hispanic neighborhoods and did nothing to stop it. Rather than monetary damages, the NAACP sought injunctions that would place sweeping restrictions on buyers and sellers of handguns.
An expert witness for the NAACP testified that an analysis found 11 percent of handguns sold in 1996 were used in rapes, robberies, assaults and murders by 2000.
The defendants argued it was unfair and unlawful to hold them liable for the criminal use of a legal product.