WASHINGTON - September 8 - A House panel today cleared for full action by the House of Representatives a bill that would make it virtually impossible for Federal authorities to shut down gun dealers who violate the law. The bill would make it virtually impossible for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) to revoke the licenses of even the most egregious rogue gun dealers in the country.
The bill now faces likely House action as early as next week. Opponents of the bill, H.R. 5092, criticized the measure Thursday as a wholly inappropriate step in a time when the nation is otherwise cracking down on security to fight the war on terror.
"As we fight a war on terror, we need to make sure that illegal guns don't land in the hands of those who seek to harm the United States," said Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a leading member of the minority side in the House on the war on terror. "The ATF needs the flexibility to crack down on the very worst gun dealers who flaunt federal law and give the industry a bad name."
The bill would largely replace ATF's current gun dealer license revocation powers with minimal fines and temporary license suspensions, and the agency could only imposed those meager penalties if it met an extraordinarily high burden of proof. Lou's Loans of Pennsylvania, one gun dealer shut down this year by the feds, would likely would still be in operation under the provisions of this bill. Lou's was the source of guns stockpiled by a co-conspirator in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
"If this bill becomes law, the results would be to render scrutiny of the worst gun pushers in America to the level of laughable," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "I don't believe that any member of Congress should see this as being in the best interests of our country."
If the bill were currently the law, Federal agents would still be trying to shut down three high-profile rogue gun dealers that have been closed this year, including:
-- Valley Gun of Baltimore County, owned by National Rifle Association board member Sanford Abrams, who lost his federal firearms license after more than 900 violations of federal firearms laws, and after losing 422 guns. Mr. Abrams has since arranged to have his guns sold by a new gun dealer who moved in next door to his shop, in a building owned by Abrams' mother. Law enforcement traced 483 crime guns to Valley Gun from 1996 to 2000 alone, ranking it 37th out of nearly 80,000 gun dealers nationwide in total crime guns traced to their stores. Valley Gun's firearms have been linked to at least 11 homicides, 41 assaults, 49 drug crimes, and 101 cases of illegal concealed carrying of guns. The U.S. Department of Justice has called Abrams' shop a "serial violator" who has "endangered the public by failing to account for hundreds of weapons." Valley Guns was profiled in a Brady Center investigative report, Death Valley.
-- Lou's Loans of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. This gun dealer sold guns to a straw purchasing team supplying weapons to a co- conspirator in the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The revocation of Lou's license came after an investigation by ATF in which ATF found at least 239 violations of federal law, including at least five instances of selling firearms to illegal straw purchasers, at least three instances of selling to prohibited purchasers, and at least five instances of selling multiple guns to one purchaser, without giving the legally-required notice of the suspicious sales to ATF and local law enforcement. Law enforcement traced 441 crime guns to Lou's from 1996 to 2000 alone, ranking it 44th out of nearly 80,000 gun dealers nationwide in total crime guns traced to their stores. Lou's was the subject of a Brady Center report issued this week, Lethal Lou's.
-- Trader Sports of San Leandro, California. The gun shop is slated to lost its federal license on June 1, 2006, after committing "thousands of violations" of federal law, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2005, Trader Sports was the second largest supplier of crime guns of any retailer in the nation, when 447 crime guns were traced to Trader Sports. Law enforcement recovers crime guns sold by Trader Sports at an average rate of more than one per day. The story of Trader Sports was told in the Brady Center report Trading In Death.
"We urge the members of the House to use common sense, and reject this terrible piece of special interest legislation," Helmke said. "The consequences of making it the law could well be tragic."