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July 21, 2008

No License? No Problem.

For years, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has called attention to the problem of “bad apple” gun dealers who violate federal regulations and sell firearms that are later used in crimes. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reports that just 1.2 percent of dealers are the source of over 57 percent of guns found on crime scenes.

A recent story demonstrates how easy it is for these “bad apples” to continue arming criminals even after ATF has revoked their licenses to sell firearms. The story focuses on Project Blackhawk, a two-year investigation of an organized gun and drug-smuggling ring between the United States and Canada. As part of the investigation, authorities traced more than 200 crime guns to one particular Chicago-area dealer, Ugur “Mike” Yildiz.

Yildiz was the owner of Chicagoland Bells, a gun shop in the suburbs of Chicago. In 2003, just one year after the store opened, ATF agents inspected it and found 500 violations of the Gun Control Act. Soon thereafter, the agency revoked Yildiz’s federal license to sell firearms. Instead of confiscating his remaining inventory, however, the ATF allowed Yildiz to transfer 200 guns from the store’s inventory to his personal collection of firearms. Yildiz then illegally smuggled these guns across the Canadian border and sold them to criminals and traffickers. Ontario police have seized 80 of Yildiz’s guns from gang members and have even connected one with an attempted murder.

Current law requires individuals “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms to possess a federal license, to conduct background checks on purchasers, and to keep records of sales so firearms can be subsequently traced if they are later used in crime. Private or “hobby” sellers, however, are exempt from these requirements under a loophole created by a 1986 law, the Firearm Owners Protection Act. Once Yildiz transferred his store’s guns to his “private collection,” he was able to evade government oversight altogether.

This is not the first time a bad apple dealer has exploited the Fire Sale Loophole. A similar situation occurred at Valley Gun Shop in Maryland in 2004. ATF recorded 900 violations of federal law by gun shop owner (and then-National Rifle Association Board member) Sandy Abrams and revoked his license to sell firearms. With legal assistance from the NRA, Abrams sued the federal government, seeking an order that would allow him to continue selling guns privately. The Bush Administration and the Department of Justice concurred with Abrams and announced in court papers that “when a dealer loses his license he can dispose of his inventory by selling those firearms” privately without being charged for illegal dealing in firearms. Through such unregulated private sales, Abrams continued to sell guns, one of which was an assault weapon later used by a criminal to shoot at police.

The NRA has worked with Members of Congress to codify the Fire Sale Loophole through the ATF Modernization and Reform Act. This legislation would enhance the ability of prohibited purchasers to obtain firearms without undergoing background checks.

Mayors around the country, however, have stood against the bill and are determined to close the Fire Sale Loophole for good. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston are the co-chairs of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition which joins over 320 mayors from 45 states in opposing unlawful gun trafficking. Their proposal to close this loophole is common sense. Dealers who repeatedly violate federal law clearly pose a threat to public safety and should not be allowed to sell firearms without processing any paperwork after their licenses have been revoked.

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