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Gun shops that violate ATF regulations rarely face serious consequences, report finds

Paul Angulo, Mike Conway
Posted at 12:03 PM, Feb 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 15:03:41-05

The White House on Thursday spoke about taking action to reduce gun violence.

The Biden Administration is pushing for funding interventions like community policing, street outreach, hospital-based intervention and youth programs.

It's also working with law enforcement to stop the illegal flow of weapons from some southern states with weaker laws into states like New York, which has tougher gun laws.

"It's a pretty straightforward kind of approach, the same that we use for the opioid crisis," said Kris Brown, the president of Brady, an organization that advocates for reducing gun violence. "Look at any kind of situation: You have to look at the supply side and the demand side. For what's happening, this is choking off the supply. It's very, very basic, and it's what most Americans expect the enforcement agencies are doing. They're just falling down on the job."

Brady just released a database of ATF inspection reports of gun dealers.

The report says that most gun stores were lawfully selling weapons. However, shops cited with multiple violations rarely have their license revoked.

Those violations included improperly storing inventory or not training staff to spot illegal purchases or conduct proper background checks. The violations also included selling to people who have not cleared background checks.

Brady says the ATF also only inspects about 7% of the U.S.'s 130,000 gun dealers each year.

"Almost every time, it's just a slap on the wrist, which is pretty terrible, because by law, Congress has precluded the ATF from re-inspecting a gun dealer for one year," Brown said. "There are all kinds of limitations that the NRA has put through Congress on the ATF and doing its job."

Daniel Webster of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence has studied gun violence as a public health issue for 30 years. He says it's hard for law enforcement to stop gun sales on the black market.

"Once a gun is in underground markets, it's very difficult to do anything about it," Webster said. "It's easier to prevent that initial diversion into that underground market."

Webster says states that adopt their own regulations for gun dealers — and enforce them — see fewer sales that move into illegal involvement. He says it's the best initial diversion to keeping guns out of the underground market.

Making gun shops more vulnerable to legal consequences like lawsuits also decreases illegal or negligent practices. Webster sees the Brady ATF inspection database as an important tool to understanding the agency's limitations.

"It will create more pressure on that agency to not look the other way when you have gun dealers who are not complying with laws," Webster said.

Click here to search inspection reports of gun dealers in your area.