Investigator: 58 percent of gun dealers go unchecked

10:55 PM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- The federal agency responsible for inspecting the country's 123,500 licensed gun dealers is failing to do its job, making it easier for unscrupulous dealers to continue breaking the law.

To cut down on illegal gun sales, federally licensed firearms dealers are required to log every gun sale and to keep records on background checks conducted on every buyer.

They're also supposed to track inventory. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says that corrupt gun dealers often attempt to disguise illegal off-the-books sales by claiming the firearms were lost or stolen.    

But a new U.S. Inspector General's report says unscrupulous dealers who sell to convicted felons can go undetected for many years.

That's because the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) fails to do routine inspections of licensed dealers.

Over a 5-year period, ATF only inspected about 42 percent of the country's 123,500 licensed gun dealers, allowing 58 percent of the dealers to operate however they wanted, according to the Inspector General's report.

ATF's failure to conduct routine inspections on gun dealers is directly tied to its lack of manpower, the report found.

The Inspector General says the agency would have to hire another 500 investigators to do the job correctly. The Columbus field division, which oversees Cleveland, has the highest staff shortage. 

ATF spokesman David Coulson says that, given its lack of manpower, the bureau is focusing on dealers who are known to sell large numbers of crime guns or operate in high-crime areas.

In addition, President Obama has proposed to increase ATF's budget so they can hire more inspectors.

The Inspector General also found that when ATF wants to shut down a dealer, the process can take up to 2 years. During that time, those dealers can keep selling firearms, the report says.

But even that doesn't stop sales completely.

A loophole in current law allows the dealer to sell the rest of his inventory. Under the law, once a license is yanked, the guns become the personal property of the dealer and personal gun sales are not prohibited.

Or, as Channel 3 News undercover investigation discovered, the dealer can just let someone else come in to sell guns.

That's what happened at Slugmasters near Warren.

After the owner was convicted of selling ammunition to a felon, a new gun dealer simply opened up shop in a room above the store.

"I'm a separate entity," Dave Isler, owner of J&D Firearms, told an undercover producer.  "I just rent space off of her."

Slugmasters' owner, Nancy Hagmaier, who can still legally sell air guns and muzzle loaders, says on hidden camera even she doesn't understand why the ATF allowed it to happen.

"It was a two-year campaign to get rid of us," Hagmaier said. "Then they turn around and put another dealer in the same building, which makes no sense -- absolutely no sense."


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