A few days ago, Everytown published a detailed and serious research report with recommendations to President Obama who wants to issue an Executive Order curtailing private gun sales by defining gun dealers in more realistic ways. Until now, the definition of a gun dealer makes it quite easy for anyone to transfer lots of guns without holding a dealer’s license, hence, such transfers fall outside the regulatory system controlled by the ATF. By defining more realistically what really constitutes being in the business of selling guns, the intention is to close a major loophole which now exists both in face-to-face and internet sales.
There would be no need for such executive action if every gun transfer required a NICS background check and a Form 4473. But the possibility that such a law would be passed is a faint hope at best, hence Obama’s willingness to consider curbing some unlicensed sales by expanding the definition of gun dealer, hence the report by Everytown which follows a similar set of recommendations put forth by the Center for American Progress last month.
This report is a solid and convincing piece of work. But the problem with recommending a more stringent definition of ‘gun dealer’ is that it will only make a difference if the regulatory environment in which all dealers have to operate is managed with aggressiveness and dedication by a regulatory agency – the ATF – which has shown a notable lack of diligent performance in the past.
But if the President is really serious about curbing the underground gun market as a way of keeping guns out of the wrong hands, I would like to make two very simple proposals that I believe would profoundly change the regulatory landscape without requiring the ATF to get off their collective rear ends and do anything at all.
First and most important, the ATF itself could simply issue a directive requiring all federally-licensed dealers to record acquisitions and dispositions of their firearm inventory in an online spreadsheet program such as Excel. The ATF actually suggests that dealers follow this practice, because it makes it easier for them to conduct an inspection when they visit a store. But it’s not required, although there’s nothing in the current regs that would prevent such an order from being carried out. What this would allow the ATF to do is drop the nonsense they have been peddling for years about how they are ‘handcuffed’ from learning more about how guns move from legal to illegal hands because they can only trace up to the first sale.
That’s simply not true and it’s not true because the ATF has total authority to examine every notation in the Acquisition & Disposition book, whether it represents the first sale or the subsequent sale of a gun which a purchaser traded in or otherwise returned to the shop. The average dealer sells 30-40% used guns; which means by definition there are multiple entries for that gun in his A&D book or the A&D of another dealer close by. And since when was the ATF required only to send a trace request to the dealer who first sold the gun? There is no such requirement, but in the absence of same, what the hell, make it up.
The President could also require that every law enforcement agency report lost or stolen guns to the ATF. He issued such an Order after Sandy Hook, but it only applied to federal agencies when, in fact, just about every stolen or missing gun is reported by its owner to the local police. The national missing/stolen list which the ATF claims is a valuable tool in the fight against crime is a joke, but it could make a difference if it was brought up to speed and combined with trace data which really showed who was the last person to legally buy a certain gun.
I don’t have any special or non-special entrée to the Oval Office. Here’s hoping that someone better connected than me might pass these recommendations along.