By Robert C. Hausman
According to troubling statistics obtained by the Baltimore Sun, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revoked nearly six times as many federal firearms licenses in 2006 as compared to 2001.
“We are concerned about this seemingly sudden spike in license revocations and will attempt to determine why so many more dealers are now having their license revoked by ATF,” said Lawrence Keane, the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s senior vice president and general counsel. “This statistic would appear to further demonstrate the need for reforms and improvements to ATF’s licensing and enforcement powers, including alternative sanctions short of revocation.”
Legislation in the last Congress (H.R. 5092) which would have reformed ATF’s policies and procedures in regard to violations by licensees passed the U.S. House by a broad bi-partisan margin but died in the Senate when it was blocked by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
The article, appearing in the January 2nd edition of the Sun, said ATF revoked FFL’s from 22 retailers in 2001 and increased that number six-fold in 2006, to 131 licenses. The revocations represent only a tiny fraction of the over 50,000 FFL’s issued nation-wide.
Retailers are concerned about an ATF emphasis on technical paperwork errors that could shut down an otherwise legitimate gun shop.
“There is a Damocles’ sword that’s hanging over dealers’ heads,” said Stephen Schneider, president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association and the owner of Atlantic Guns in Rockville, Maryland. “We’re a legitimate business, and yet feel we could not be in business next year for record-keeping violations.”
Maryland Dealer License Revocations
The issue of dealer license revocations took center stage in Maryland in 2006 when the license of Sanford M. Abrams, an outspoken critic of ATF, was pulled. The revocation came after ATF said it found over 900 violations at Abrams’ shop, Valley Gun.
Since then, two other Maryland retailers have had their FFLs revoked: Bel Air Gun & Pawn in Fallston and Gilbert Indoor Range in Rockville. Both have filed petitions in federal court to restore their licenses.
In the Bel Air case, ATF revoked the license of owner Charles D. Scheurman last June for record-keeping errors, including no paperwork kept on 14 guns brought in for repair, and 57 guns bought for resale, according to the Sun which said its reporter examined court papers.
Gilbert’s owner, American Arms International, faces similar allegations by ATF, claiming the shop sold or disposed of 427 firearms without properly recording the transactions. Its license was revoked in July.
The two gun shops’ lawyer, the wellknown Richard E. Gardiner, in court papers argued that the violations were not willful and therefore the shops could not be held liable. Gardiner wrote that any problems were “technical record-keeping errors which were not intentional or deliberate,” according to the Sun.
This author would add that an essential element for ATF to prove its case is the showing of “willfulness” by the defendant. Thus, Gardiner focused on the “willfulness” aspect in the defense of his clients.
Courts, however, have not always been receptive to the type of argument mounted by Gardiner. In the Abrams case, for example, U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson in Baltimore last February ruled that while Abrams “may challenge the numerousness or seriousness of its violations of federal firearms law, (he) makes no credible argumentthat there were no violations.”
“The undisputed fact is that because of (Valley Gun’s) lapses, scores of firearms are unaccounted for, and therefore, untraceable,” the judge decided. Gardiner, who is also Abrams’ attorney, has asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia to review Nickerson’s decision.
Gardiner alluded to ATF having too many inspectors and thus directing them to do extensive, wide-ranging inspections of licensees in order to make them appear to have lots of work to do. “You have to keep them busy or someone is going to wonder why you need them all,” he said to the Sun.
“I think it’s a huge waste of government resources, because all they’re finding is paperwork problems,” Gardiner added.
ATF told the Sun’s reporter that it increased the number of firearms inspectors in 2003 by about 50%. After an intense focus on explosives dealers after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, ATF has been spending more time examining gun dealer operations, according to Michael Fronczak, the ATF area supervisor for industry operations in Maryland.
Though the number of ATF inspectors has increased as the number of FFL licensees has decreased in recent years, most FFLs are rarely inspected, unless ATF believes there is some problem with them.
A recent report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that ATF inspected 4,581 dealers, or 4.5% of the entire dealer universe, in fiscal year 2002. Within that group of dealers, ATF found 134,832 violations, but revoked only 30 dealer licenses nationwide.
“What we try to do is bring them into voluntary compliance. We’re not in the business of putting people out of business,” said Jeffrey Cohen, an ATF lawyer.
Based on past conversations with ATF personnel and on the remarks made by ATF personnel during presentations to industry, this author has surmised that the reason ATF places such an emphasis on record-keeping, particularly properly filled out Form 4473s, is that the agency can encounter difficulty in referring prosecutions of prohibited persons who attempt to purchase firearms if the forms are not clearly and completely filled out. Also, if acquisitions and dispositions are not duly recorded, the agency will find it impossible to conduct firearm traces.
ATF Form 4587 (5330.4) AECA Importer Registration
The address for the submission of ATF Form 4587 (5330.4) has changed. This form is used to apply for an importer’s registration under the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). Effective December 21, 2006, these applications are to be submitted to: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, Imports Fees, P.O. Box 281907, Atlanta, GA 30384-1907
Presently, applications sent to the previous address in Chicago, Illinois will be forwarded to the new address in Atlanta. This will change in the future, so it is important to note the new address.
The application form will be revised to reflect the new mailing address as soon as possible. Please direct any questions to the Chief, F&E Imports Branch, 244 Needy Road, Martinsburg, WV 25405, telephone (304) 616-4550.
ATF to Conduct BackgroundChecks of Visitors
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives intends to begin conducting police inquiries into the background of visitors to ATF facilities The search will involve an inquiry into whether or not the visitor has a criminal record. In the near future, ATF will conduct a background check of contractors or other non-ATF personnel requesting escorted access to its facilities, according to an item recently published in the Federal Register (Volume 71, Number 190, page 58006) on Oct. 2, 2006.
ATF Form 4 Address Change
The address for the submission of ATF Form 4 applications has changed. Effective immediately, these applications are to be submitted to: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, National Firearms Act Branch, P.O. Box 530298, Atlanta, GA 30353-0298
For now, applications sent to the previous address in Chicago, Illinois, will be forwarded to the new address in Atlanta. This will change in the future, so it’s important to note the new address. The application will be revised to reflect the new mailing address as soon as possible.
ATF Withdraws Announcement on Annual Dealer Inventory Proposal
Notice of a proposed ATF requirement that FFL-holders conduct an annual firearms inventory has been withdrawn by the agency.
The Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced (by way of a notice published in the Federal Register, Vol. 71, No. 233, Dec. 5, 2006) that it has withdrawn the notice published in the Federal Register on November 9, 2006 (Vol. 71, No. 217, page 65838) that solicited comments from the public on an ATF proposal to require firearms licensees to conduct annual inventories of their firearms.
The reason given for the withdrawal was said to be that it was published in error.
A similar notice was published in the Federal Register several years ago in which ATF was considering imposing an inventory taking requirement on licensees. ATF’s consideration of the mandate was confirmed upon inquiry. However, ATF apparently never moved ahead with its inventory mandate at that time. It is unknown if ATF’s latest notice was published prematurely.
Reward Offered in Gun Shop Break-Ins
ATF is offering a $10,000 reward for information on those responsible for firearms thefts at two Glendora, California gun shops.
On Nov. 3, 2006 the Buckhorn Gun Store at 1750 S. Grand Ave. was burglarized and seven guns were stolen. On Nov. 25th, seven firearms were stolen from the Gunslingers Gun Store at 757 E. Arrow Highway.Both were committed by cutting a hole through the stores’ roofs to gain access.
Briley to Distribute Mauser
Briley Manufacturing has been awarded exclusive North American importation and distribution rights for German – made Mauser rifles. Briley obtained the right to distribute, among other products, the famed Mauser 98 and the newer Model 03 bolt-action rifles. With the arrangement, Briley expands its role fromthe manufacture of shotgun tubes and chokes, to the rifle field.
Study: 300 Swiss Killed with Army Guns Annually
On the international side, over 300 people are killed every year with army guns, according to a study led by the Swiss criminologist Martin Killias. These arms play a central role in suicides and Switzerland’s grim history of family killings, said the research, published just days ahead of a parliamentary debate on proposed gun control legislation.
The study revealed that private guns and army weapons were used in 36% of domestic murders. The majority, 60%, of murders outside the home on the other hand involved illegal weapons.
However, army weapons were used in more than two-thirds (68%) of suicides. Killias said the total number of deaths from army weapons, an extrapolation from data from six cantons, was far higher than he had expected.
The figures, published in the journal of the Criminological Institute at Lausanne University, are part of a full study which should be released next summer. Killias said it was also alarming that domestic murder happens so frequently – every second murder or attempted murder in Switzerland occurs within the family circle. “It is undeniable that keeping weapons at home causes major problems,” he said.
Killias is an opponent of the Swiss tradition of relying on firearms, particularly military-issued firearms kept at home, for the defense of the country. “Do we want to continue accepting the deaths of almost 300 people a year by pistols, rifles and carbines in order to perpetuate a tradition which allegedly strengthens the will to defend oneself,” he said. The release of his report was timed to affect the parliamentary debate on firearms issues taking place in late 2006. It is as yet unknown if his report had any influence on legislators.
On another note, the Swiss government has largely stopped selling surplus military arms at its famous governmentrun auctions as a result of pressure from the European Union. The result is that the available Swiss surplus firearms in circulation are sure to rise in value.
UN OKs Arms Trade Treaty Resolution
Over U.S. objections, the United Nations General Assembly has approved a resolution that could lead to the first international treaty on controlling the trade in assault rifles, machine guns and other small arms.
The nonbinding resolution asks the secretary-general to seek the views of the 192-member General Assembly on the feasibility of a comprehensive treaty “establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.” Global trade in small arms is worth about $4 billion a year, of which a fourth is considered illegal, according to the U.N.
The resolution asks the secretary-general to submit a report in the next General Assembly session, which starts in September 2007. It also asks the secretary- general to establish a group of government experts to examine the feasibility of a treaty based on the report.
Resolution advocates said they hope any final treaty would compel countries to officially authorize all arms transfers, stiffen compliance with previous treaties related to conventional arms while prohibiting arms transfers with countries likely to use the arms to violate their citizens’ rights.
The resolution was approved by a vote of 153-1 with 24 abstentions. The United States was the only country to vote against it, despite an appeal from 14 Democratic senators to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the adoption of the resolution, noting that “unregulated trade in these weapons currently contributes to conflict, crime and terrorism, and undermines international efforts for peace and development,” his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
When the resolution was approved by the assembly’s legal committee over U.S. objections, Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said: “The only way for a global arms trade treaty to work is to have every country agree on a standard.”
“For us, that standard would be so far below what we are already required to do under U.S. law that we had to vote against it in order to maintain our higher standards,” he said.
The National Rifle Association has strongly opposed U.N. efforts at crafting a treaty to curb private ownership of small arms. The group has said such a treaty might embolden regimes that violate human rights to disarm their citizens and make popular uprisings against oppression impossible.
The author publishes two of the small arms industry’s most widely read trade newsletters. The International Firearms Trade covers the world firearms scene, and The New Firearms Business covers the domestic market. He also offers FFL-mailing lists to firms interested in direct marketing efforts to the industry. He may be reached by e-mail at: FirearmsB@aol.com.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V10N7 (April 2007)|