Jan. 12, 2004 -- More than half of the firearms traced in crimes come from just 1 percent of the nation's licensed gun stores, but federal agents rarely check to make sure these stores are complying with gun laws, a new study finds.
According to data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, approximately 1 percent of the nation's gun stores are the source of 57 percent of the firearms traced to crimes. It took the Washington-based lobbyist group Americans for Gun Safety six years and three lawsuits to get the names of the gun stores that sell a disproportionate number of the guns traced to crimes.
The group's study found that just 120 dealers in 22 states sold nearly 55,000 guns linked to crime in five years.
Missing Gun Turns Up … In Sniper’s Hands
One example is Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Wash. Four years ago, federal officials found that 150 guns were missing from the store and warned it to keep better records. Later, one of Bull's Eye's missing guns was used by the Washington, D.C.-area snipers.
The dealer lost his license but was never prosecuted. Gun control advocates say dealers rarely receive stiff punishment.
"When they are committing major violations, they should be prosecuted and go to jail," said Jim Kessler, policy director for Americans for Gun Safety.
The Valley Gun Shop in Baltimore sold 438 guns traced to crimes. Owner Sandy Abrams points out he is one of the biggest dealers in a high-crime area.
"If you are in an urban area, you are a high-volume dealer, who are going to get more traces," Abrams said. "It is just simple mathematics."
Audits Are Rare
Federal officials have cited Abrams' store for 13 violations. He said all the violations are "trivial."
"If you buy two firearms in here using a credit card, we fill out seven forms," Abrams said. "That is a lot of paperwork and people make mistakes."
Federal authorities routinely inspect Valley Gun Shop. But most gun dealers are rarely audited, even those who have had several violations in the past.
Of the 120 so-called high-crime gun stores, only 24 have been inspected in the last 3 ½ years, according to the Americans for Gun Safety report. Nationwide, only 27 gun dealers were prosecuted last year.
"If they [gun dealers] are just keeping their eyes closed to what is going on and letting guns get to the criminals, it is rare that they are prosecuted," said former ATF official Joe Vince.
But most gun dealers insist most stores take pains to comply with federal laws. They argue there is too much regulation, not too little.