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Gun Seller's Case Reveals Hurdles Of Enforcement


Fred Jones

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Gun Seller's Case Reveals Hurdles Of Enforcement

Md. Shop's Decade of Lapses Brings Scrutiny to House Bill

By Amit R. Paley

Washington Post Staff Writer

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/22/AR2006072201032.html

PARKVILLE, Md. -- Sanford M. Abrams began selling guns from his shop in Baltimore County in 1996 and almost immediately started losing track of them.

In 1997, he couldn't account for 45. In 2001, it was 133. In 2003, there were 422 firearms missing -- more than a quarter of his inventory -- including semiautomatic assault rifles, 12-gauge shotguns and Glock 9mm pistols, according to federal investigators.

This year, a decade after he started losing track of guns, Abrams's store lost its firearms license. But he still intends to sell guns.

The tale of Abrams and his Valley Gun Shop -- which regulators describe in court records as "a serial violator" that has "endangered the public" -- illustrates the difficulty government regulators face in shutting down even those dealers found to have persistently flouted the nation's gun laws. The controversy is the subject of fierce debate in Congress.

Abrams, a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors, did not dispute the substance of more than 900 violations of federal gun laws filed against his store. But he called them unintentional recordkeeping errors that posed no threat to public safety and said it is impossible for anyone to comply with all firearms regulations.

The dispute has heightened scrutiny of new federal legislation, strongly backed by the NRA, that federal officials said would cripple their ability to revoke gun licenses. The bill, which would make it more difficult to close down gun shops without evidence of criminal intent, also could allow Valley Gun to resume sales of firearms, the lawmaker sponsoring the measure said.

Even if the bill is defeated, Abrams plans to use a provision in existing law to sell 700 guns left over from his shop's inventory at a soon-to-be-opened store called Just Guns, which will sell them on consignment. Its location? Next door to Valley Gun, on property owned by his family.

"What do people want me to do? Grind them up into itty-bitty pieces and make manhole covers out of them? Sorry, I don't think so," Abrams said. "The Second Amendment gives me the right to own and sell guns, and that's what I'm going to do."

Abrams, 57, peppers his conversation with obscenities, many of them directed at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and styles himself as one of the most outspoken gun store owners in the country. He has sued ATF three times and claims it has a vendetta against him.

Most days, from opening at 10 a.m. to closing at 6 p.m., he can be found behind the counter, selling unregulated guns and accessories at Valley Gun, a tiny white-brick store in this largely working-class Baltimore suburb. A signed thank-you note from President Bush for campaign work hangs in the store.

The business has been owned by his family since 1954, but its problems with ATF didn't begin until Abrams became president after his father died in 1996.

The decade-long battle between Abrams and ATF has centered on strict federal laws that require dealers to keep detailed records on their inventory and customers who buy firearms so law enforcement officials can trace guns found in criminal investigations to their original purchasers and prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals.

When inspectors arrived at Valley Gun in 1997, they discovered incomplete sales records and dozens of guns listed in store inventory records that could not be located. Officials were alarmed and sent a warning letter threatening to revoke the store's license. They returned two years later and found more instances of improper sales and unaccounted-for guns. Revocation was threatened again in a warning conference.

"If the dealer can't account for the guns, how did they get out of the store?" asked Michael D. Campbell, spokesman for ATF's Washington field division. "Were they being sold off the books? Are they being given to criminals? That's always a concern."

By 2000, ATF had identified Valley Gun as one of the 41 most "uncooperative" dealers in the country in responding to requests for information needed to trace guns linked to crime. Abrams sued the agency after it asked him to turn over records, but the courts eventually ruled against him.

An inspection the next year revealed more than 100 missing guns, failures to perform proper background checks and improper sales records on 419 of 933 transactions examined. Under normal circumstances, the agency would move to revoke his license. But because of Abrams's position on the NRA board and his previous lawsuit against ATF, agency officials chose to hold a highly unusual second warning conference, according to two senior ATF officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

"We were actually bending over backwards to be fair to him," said Jeffrey A. Cohen, assistant chief counsel for ATF.

Then a 2003 audit found that several machine guns had been sold without proper records; a gun had been sold without a proper background check; and 422 guns -- 28 percent of the 1,524 that should have been in his inventory -- were missing. Some of the guns were later found to have been sold but not properly accounted for.

Valley Gun was then ranked 37th of 80,000 dealers in the country for firearms linked to crime, according to a 2004 study by Americans for Gun Safety. Almost 500 guns associated with crime were traced back to the store, the study found.

ATF decided in 2004 to revoke Valley Gun's license. But Abrams, who has not been charged with any crime, filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the agency's decision. ATF officials allowed him to continue selling guns as the case was heard.

In two hour-long interviews at his store, Abrams repeatedly attacked ATF officials as deceitful sloths who want to put honest gun dealers out of business. "If they remove all the licensees," he said, "they don't have to worry about working anymore."

He said it is impossible not to make mistakes when filling out the nine forms required for the sale of a firearm, some of which have 37 sections. "And some of the forms are going to go missing," he said. "Forms fall behind the counter. Or maybe someone throws it away."

Abrams said "mathematics and logic tells you you're going to have to make errors." He added: "I just screwed up paperwork. . . . There is no crime here."

When asked how it is possible to lose track of hundreds of guns, Abrams responded angrily that law enforcement officials constantly lose firearms. "When the police are perfect," he said, "then you have the right to ask that question."

Rest of article at above link.

I am on the side of law enforcement of this case. Many gun owners have said over the years that we don't need new gun laws just enforce the ones that exist. Well, it appears that they want to weaken the existing ones. That this owner can't get it right is a big problem and this particular gun shop should be put out of business. How is law enforcement supposed to stop criminal activity without proper records. Heck, any old terrorist could now come into this country, visit this person's shop, and get any unregistered gun he wanted and no one would be the wiser. If that terrorist went on a shooting spree law enforcement would have a difficult time tracking where the gun was purchased. People need to stop hiding behind the NRA and the second amendment and obey the laws. If you are a law abiding citizen you should not have to worry at all about purchasing a properly registered firearm.

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I am on the side of law enforcement of this case. Many gun owners have said over the years that we don't need new gun laws just enforce the ones that exist. Well, it appears that they want to weaken the existing ones. That this owner can't get it right is a big problem and this particular gun shop should be put out of business. How is law enforcement supposed to stop criminal activity without proper records. Heck, any old terrorist could now come into this country, visit this person's shop, and get any unregistered gun he wanted and no one would be the wiser. If that terrorist went on a shooting spree law enforcement would have a difficult time tracking where the gun was purchased. People need to stop hiding behind the NRA and the second amendment and obey the laws. If you are a law abiding citizen you should not have to worry at all about purchasing a properly registered firearm.

This shop owner is this shop owner. You might ask the question WTF were the BATF people doing by not pulling his license the first time they found he lost track of guns? Why give him multiple warnings?

Why do you assume a terrorist would buy guns from that shop, though? I don't see an NRA member, especially one like this one, aiding terrorists at all. Plus, why pay $800 - $1500 at an American gun shop for a gun worthy of being used by a terrorist, when he could get a gun suitable for the purpose for far less in other places?

Law abiding citizen most definitely need to worry about "properly registered" firearms. Registration is almost invariably followed by confiscation. It happened in England, it happened in Australia, it happened to an extent in Canada, heck it even happened in California. The law abiding people in California who owned "assault weapons" were told to register them, and then there was the same debate you're bringing up -- if we're law abiding citizens, there should be no need to worry, right? And then California banned them, and residents who had registered them were forced to sell them, take them out of state, or give them up.

That wasn't a long time ago in some third world country, that was this country during the Clinton administration. So if you want to buy "properly registered" guns, be my guest. I'll live in a state where that's not required.

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I'm probably about to shock and amaze a whole lot of people.....

Mr. Abrams needs to see the inside of a jail cell for this sort of systematic and obvious mismanagement. This guy is the sort of A-Hole who gives all gun owners and retailers a bad name. So far as I am concerned, even a SINGLE firearm whose sale cannot be tracked from the retailer to the purchaser is a problem. A problem for which the retailer deserves to be immediately and irrevocably put out of business.

With that having been said, if we could look at it from an omnipotent point of view, I'd be willing to bet that most of those "missing" transactions weren't with drug dealers or violent criminals. I'd be willing to bet that those firearms were sold to individuals who cannot obtain a permit for what Mr. Abrams onsiders inappropriate reasons. That doesn't mean the sales were proper, just that Mr. Abrams believed them to be and that it isn't bad bookkeeping, but rather intentional omission that accounts for the missing firearms.

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