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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 9, 2010
12:23 PM

Senate Committee Will Take Up 'Reform' Bill That Would Protect Corrupt Gun Dealers

WASHINGTON - September 9 - The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced plans to hold a hearing next Tuesday on a bill that would severely undermine the powers of a key Federal law enforcement agency to police the nation's most reckless gun dealers.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) "Reform and Firearms Modernization Act," would severely undermine federal gun law enforcement and protect corrupt gun dealers. The legislation would make it virtually impossible for ATF to revoke the licenses of gun dealers who violate federal law.

"This bill is only ‘reform' from the perspective of corrupt gun dealers who want to be free from law enforcement scrutiny," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.  "Almost 60 percent of crime guns are traced to just one percent of the gun dealers in America.  Those are the gun dealers that would benefit from this legislation." Helmke has a new blog posted on the legislation: Read it at  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-helmke/nra-campaigns-to-protect_b_710496.html or www.blog.bradycampaign.org.

On Monday, September 7, the Washington Post editorialized against the bill, saying it would "force the ATF to provide repeated warnings before moving against wayward dealers. The bar for action is set so high that it would make it all but impossible for the ATF to press forward with any case* The bill in some instances would give gun dealers who had broken the law a free pass. For example, a dealer whose license had been revoked would be given 60 days to liquidate his inventory."

ATF is already hamstrung by built-in protections for rogue gun dealers, and this bill would tie them down them ever more.  The problem of rogue gun dealers is vividly illustrated by former NRA Board Member Sanford Abrams, who owned Valley Gun shop near Baltimore, Maryland. His shop violated federal law over 900 times, and after nearly a decade of violations, ATF was finally able to revoke its firearms license. The U.S. Department of Justice called Valley Gun an "irresponsible gun shop" that engaged in "dangerous operations" as a "serial violator" of gun laws.

Under this proposed legislation, in cases like Abrams' where an irresponsible dealer was repeatedly violating federal gun laws, the burden imposed by the legislation to show "willfulness" - defined in the bill as requiring a specific intent to break specific law - would make license revocation nearly impossible. Moreover, the legislation caps fines at $7,500 per inspection, which in Abrams' case could have amounted to less than $8.50 per violation of federal gun laws.

Some of the worst provisions in the bill:

  • The legislation would make it virtually impossible for ATF to shut down rogue gun dealers, including those who repeatedly violate federal law. The legislation would require ATF to show that a dealer knew the specific law he or she was violating and intentionally disregarded the law. Under current law, ATF can revoke a license for repeated violations of law without also proving that the dealer specifically intended to break the law. This legislation also re-classifies federal gun laws as "serious" and "minor" and allows license revocation only for so-called "serious" violations. So-called "minor" violations would include dangerous dealer conduct, such as when a dealer "loses" hundreds of guns.
  • The legislation would allow ATF to impose fines or temporary license suspensions only if ATF proves that a dealer specifically intended to violate the law, an extremely difficult burden of proof. If ATF were able to meet this new burden, the maximum fine would be limited to $7,500 for all violations found at an inspection of a gun dealer. This is extremely low - sellers of unsafe products other than guns, for example, face fines of $8,000 per violation, up to $1,825,000. ATF would also have to postpone sanctions in most cases through years of court appeals.
  • The legislation would allow most dealers who violate gun laws to continue selling guns for 60 days after their licenses are revoked or expire, even if they committed willful violations of federal law. It also would allow dealers who violate federal law to evade closure by transferring their businesses to friends or family. The legislation would redefine federal law to make it more difficult to sanction dealers who fail to keep proper records that are vital to enable ATF to trace crime guns.

 "The ATF needs more authority to build cases against the worst behaving gun dealers in America, not less authority," Helmke said.  "This bill is appalling, and needs to be defeated."

As the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence, the Brady Campaign, with its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, works to enact and enforce sensible gun laws, regulations and public policies.  The Brady Campaign is devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.

Visit the Brady Campaign website at www.bradycampaign.org.  For continuing insight and comment on the gun issue, read Paul Helmke's blog at www.bradycampaign.org/blog/.

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The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative and grassroots affiliate, the Brady Campaign and its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence.

We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.



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