What Can Happen If You Sell A Gun Legally And It Gets Into The ‘Wrong Hands.’

I have a friend named Dave LaGuercia who happens at the moment to be in a Boston hospital for a second round of surgery – let’s hope all goes well. I have known Dave since 2004 or 2005 when he opened a small gun shop in Connecticut just over the Massachusetts line. Dave had previously been in the car business as a broker, he had done quite well, but being a gun nut once he had some dough in his pocket he did what we all do, he bought some gun inventory and opened a shop.

mcx            One thing led to another and within three or four years Dave had moved to a much larger location and now had a gun shop that was maybe the second-largest store in the whole state. And since Connecticut is a fairly small state and Dave’s store was situated right off an exit of Interstate 91 (‘easy on – easy off’) he got customers from as far away as the Danbury area, one of whom was Nancy Lanza, who showed up some time in 2011 or 2012 with her young son, Adam, and purchased an AR-15.

Two days after the Sandy Hook massacre, as Dave was about to close for the night, a squad of helmeted ATF agents carrying rifles and wearing body armor drove up in two Humvees and charged into the shop. Oh yes, they were immediately followed into Dave’s store by some media folks who had been alerted by the ATF that something connected to the Sandy Hook mess was about to go down.

Let me interject one point here that needs to be understood. I heard about Sandy Hook while I was standing behind the counter of my gun shop; I closed the shop immediately and went home.  But later that night after the shooter was identified, I went back to the shop and pored through my records to find out whether or not I was the dealer who had sold the gun. Since it was a rifle, Nancy Lanza could have come into Massachusetts and bought the gun from me. I would have been required to ship the gun to a Connecticut dealer, so I was able to quickly check and I knew that the gun hadn’t come from me. I can guarantee you that every gun dealer in Connecticut and Massachusetts was looking through their books that same night in the hopes that the AR wasn’t sold by them.

The ATF spent the next several weeks examining every gun sale that Dave ever made. They also suspended his license which he never got back. Eventually they found a sale of a hunting rifle which was improperly made, but it was still a violation of 4473 law so they could now build a case. A year later, having absorbed the loss of his entire business, Dave took a misdemeanor plea for the sale of the hunting rifle and also agreed never to go back into the business of selling guns. All the result of a legal sale of an AR-15.

Back in 1995 my good friend in Fairfax, Wayne-o LaPierre, took a lot of flak for calling the ATF a bunch of ‘jack-booted thugs.’ Wayne-o has never been known to be as a master of the understatement, but when I think about how Dave LaGuercia was treated by the ATF, I have to say that Wayne-o was right. And by the way, every, single gun-shop owner throughout the Northeast knows what happened to Dave because every shop is visited on a regular basis by the sales reps for S&W, Ruger and Glock, so news gets around.

I’m not trying in any way to justify Sandy Hook or the lethal dangers of an AR-15. What I am saying is that there are reasons why people in the gun business don’t trust the government to regulate their industry in a proper and positive way. Something to think about the next time an advocate for gun violence prevention gets into a discussion with a gun nut about his guns.

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21 thoughts on “What Can Happen If You Sell A Gun Legally And It Gets Into The ‘Wrong Hands.’

  1. You write: “A year later, having absorbed the loss of his entire business, Dave took a misdemeanor plea for the sale of the hunting rifle and also agreed never to go back into the business of selling guns. All the result of a legal sale of an AR-15.”

    That’s false, with all due respect. Had he not sold the hunting rifle illegally, there would be no case. He broke the law. THAT’S why he had to plead, and that’s why he lost his license. He. Broke. The. Law. You might not like the law, but he broke it.

      • I’m a gun owner, Mike. I’m not the enemy. But i’m tired of “gun nuts” making me, a responsible gun owner, look bad. No. It’s entirely about him breaking the law. Based on the statutes involved, he could have gotten worse. Stop being lazy. Do the paperwork, and you ‘ll have no problems. Don’t be lazy, which is what your “Because it’s a pain in the ass” statement implys. If you don’t want to do it, hire someone who will.

    • Mike has been an FFL and I have not, so I may get admonished here for being wrong, but here is what is in the ATF guide under Chapter 15, Penalties and Sanctions, Section 15.1, NFA: 27 CFR Part 478, Subpart E. “Note that the courts have held that a person’s conduct was “willful” where the evidence showed that the FFL knew of his legal obligation and disregarded or was plainly indifferent to that obligation.”

      So to follow up on Mike’s discussion of punishment not fitting the crime, I really doubt the AFT would have gone after Mr. LaGuercia with an axe and a hammer had he not sold, legally, that AR to Nancy Lanza (which was also quite legal under CT law at the time). This was almost certainly political, i.e., the government wanting to make a head roll for the fact of Newtown.

  2. “According to court documents and statements made in court, LAGUERCIA, doing business as Riverview Sales, Inc. (“Riverview”), was a federal firearms licensed dealer in Connecticut (“FFL”) from 2005 to December 2012. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) conducted an investigation of LAGUERCIA and Riverview and discovered approximately 300 examples of false or missing information in Riverview’s acquisition and disposition (“A&D”) records. The investigation also revealed at least two instances in which individuals received firearms prior to receiving approval from the national instant criminal background check system (“NICS”). Riverview also failed to report the theft of a firearm within 48 hours, and failed to report multiple sales of handguns to the same individuals.

    “This investigation of one of Connecticut’s largest gun dealers revealed hundreds of record-keeping violations, improper sales, shoddy inventory procedures and seemingly non-existent store security,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Daly.”

    https://www.justice.gov/usao-ct/pr/east-windsor-gun-store-owner-admits-multiple-federal-firearms-violations

  3. Bob: You really don’t know much about the gun business so you find some article or another and quote it as if it means anything. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Those so-called violations are nothing but nit-opicking and would have resulted in nnothingn more than a warning issued after the inspection was completed. I was inspected in 2013-2014 for roughly 12,000 transfers conducted between 2002 and 2013. I had over 5,000 instances of ‘missing’ information. Know why? Because I foirgot to list either the address or the FFL number of the distributor from whom I had purchased more than 5,000 guns which I was supposed to do every time I logged in a gun; this disttributor, btw, was located 10 minutes from my shop and has been inspected multiple times by the ATF. Why didn’t I list the FFL # every time I entered a gun in my A & D book? Because it was a pain in the ass and the ATf wanted to make an issue out of it, God bless. When the inspection was finioshed we agreed that I didn’t have paperwork for 4 transfers out of 11,000 or so. Know what I had to do? I had to report those 4 guns to a nice lady who runs the ATf stolen and missing list at ATF headquarters in Atlanta. Believe me, if I had sold that AR to Nancy Lanza, I would have been facing some kind of charge over those 4 guns. As I said above, you don’t really know anyhting abouit the gun business so quoting some newspaper source or another is really meaningless.

    • Bob: I’m with you. The first thing I did was review the ATF report after reading this.

      Mike: He’s not quoting “some newspaper.” It’s the United States Department of Justice website, which, forgive me, seems more legitimate than a gun shop owner’s friend writing his (unsourced) side of the story.

      Maybe you did get different treatment for similar violations, but, hey, I got pulled over for speeding the other day and since the cop was having a good morning, I didn’t get a ticket. (Gun-lovers love the driving metaphor.) Is this evidence that someone who does get a ticket for speeding is being treated unfairly? Not on its own, no.

      As I understand it, the ATF was within their rights to charge for these violations. Is he really the first gun shop owner to receive this type of treatment for these types of violations? Despite your personal illustration of the ATF’s anecdotal leniency, I doubt it. Myself, I would need more evidence to believe there is some kind of systematic bias at work here. If there is more research on this matter, I would be interested in reading.

      • I don’t mind being criticized for what I write – we all learn all the time. But I have an issue when I am criticized for something I didn’t write. I never accused the ATF of ‘systematic bias’ or bias of any kind. That wasn’t the point of my column at all.

      • And by the way, the source that Bob linked wasn’t the ATF. It was a press release issued by the Assistant Attorney General for northern Connecticut who consciously confused the issue with the following statement: “Today is an example of the consequences federal firearms dealers face when they commit violations and put communities in danger with their action.” If the ATF wants to pretend that paperwork mistakes put communities ‘in danger,’ that’s fine. But what put the community of Newtown in danger was a legal sale of a gun to someone who then did not exercise proper diligence in terms of monitoring the hehavior of her son. And the ATF knows the difference – which is why my paperowkr errors did not result in a charge against me. I don’t think I need to justify or explain my views on gun violence but that’s not the point here. The point here is that a government agency behaved in a reckless manner and nothing that they did increased community safety at all.

  4. Thanks for responding. Your comments did give me some insight into what you wrote.

    I’m having a hard time relating to your perspective, maybe because I don’t see it as just paperwork. A background check involves papers, as does reporting a stolen firearm, but that paperwork is also a legal and ethical responsibility, right?

    From my viewpoint, the community IS safer after a gun shop owner who failed to complete these steps has been charged. Maybe the violations in question were not related to the Lanzas, but who received the firearm without the background check? Who took possession of the stolen firearm that was not reported in a timely manner? If your point was, as you said above, that you don’t believe the punishment fit the crime, then I guess we’ll agree to disagree.

  5. What you seem to be overlooking is the issue of intent. And the law clearly requires thst the issue of intent be considered in any criminal proceeding. In this case, the gun buyer who didn’t undergo the background check was an older man, a known customer, who came into the shop one day, filled out the 4473 form but then said that he had forgotten his money and would shortly return. He came back the next day, paid for the gun, which was a bolt-action hunting rifle, and the store clerk forgot to look inaside the 4473 to see if it was complete. It wasn’t. And the 4473 was then filed away after the guy left the shop, nobody noticed the mistake, so what? When I was inspected the last time I could not produce all the paperwork on 4 transfers. One of them had happened 7 or 8 years before the inspection took place. Was the paperwork somewhere around the shop? Probably. Did anyone including rhe ATF do any kind of search? No. And the reason that the ATF didn’t care is that if they could only find 4 transactions for which some of the paperwork was missing, then this told them that I wasn’t intentonally or continuously trying to get around the law. And btw, because the transaction took place years before, it was therefore considered a ‘missing’ or ‘stolen’ gun. Which meant it hadn’t been reported within 48 hours.

    If the ATF had revoked my license and forced me to close, we would have gone to Court and I would have won. And I would have won because of the issue of intent. And since the penalties for not following FFL laws can be any one of a multitude of penalties, from a warning letter all the way up to shutting me down, the ATF would have had to justify the maximum penalty for something which they knew was nothing more than an honest mistake. If it were the case that a gun dealer had to be shut down because he didn’t do paperwork correctly, there wouldn’t be a gun dealer operating in the United States. Which is fine. But the reason why there are a range of penalties is precisly because the law cannot be arbitrary; it has to be fair. And to say that someone broke a law and therefore must pay the ultimate price is to demonstrate a profound ignorance of our legal system and how it protects everyone involved.

    • Here’s the ATF Press release:

      https://www.atf.gov/news/pr/east-windsor-gun-store-owner-who-violated-federal-laws-sentenced

      Btw:

      Some of the articles that I came across while looking for information on this case, also mention:

      An Employee of the Gun shop possibly selling firearms and ammunition to a felon, and “repeatedly giving the felon access to firearms at shooting ranges in Connecticut.”

      https://www.scribd.com/mobile/document/215293266/Riverview-and-Laguercia-Final-Sentencing-Memorandum-Sunday-3-16-422-Pm

      The unnoticed theft of at least 12 rifles:

      “Jordan Marsh, 26, of South Windsor, stole at least a dozen guns from Riverview Sales in East Windsor over the years, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spector.”

      http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Riverview-gun-thief-to-serve-prison-time-5122283.php

      • Robert: If you are going to continue to do a Google on things I say and then reprint articles which come up oin your search, you could at least take the time to read them, okay? The employee who sold the ammunition to the felon was fired by Dave when he discovered the sales. Under FFL law, the license-holder is ultimately responsible for any violation of the license by an employee, but that’s a moot point. If someone commits an illegal act while employed in a gun shop, what can the owner do when he discovers the illegakl behavior? Shoot the guy? No, he fires him, which is exactly what Dave did.
        As to the ‘dozen’ guns allegedly stolen by Jordan Marsh, in fact, he attempted to steal a Bushmaster twice by simply grabbing a gun from the counter and running out of the store. The first time he was grabbed by a store employee and claimed he didn’t ‘mean’ to run away. The second time an employee got the license number of his car, the police were immediately called and they tracked him down to a motel near Bradley Airport where he was allegedly waiting for someone to whom he was going to sell the gun.
        Now here’s another statement from the Ct. Post story:
        “The prosecutor said Marsh’s repeated thefts from Riverview led to a federal investigation of the store, which resulted in convictions of the owner, David Laguercia and a former salesman, Krystopher DiBella on federal misdemeanor record-keeping charges. DiBella was placed on federal probation while Laguercia surrendered his license to sell guns and is awaiting sentencing.”
        The ;’federal investigation’ started after the ATF came into Dave’s store followinmg Sandy Hook. It had no relationship at all to the incidents involving Marsh or DiBella.

    • Mike –
      I ask this question in all sincerity. Given your definition above, why couldn’t any FLL dealer skirt the rules and regulations by saying “I had no intent to deceive”? How is having to determine intent that not a slippery slope that invites illegal behavior to be justified with a simple “I didn’t mean to make that mistake.”?

      • Intent is always a factor, i.e.,motive and intent. Generally, that is discussed in court. If we want to go the way of absolutism, that has to apply to all things. Next time you cannot find your insurance card, do you want your car hooked up and impounded? Or do you want the option of driving home and mailing a copy of the card to the court and get the ticket dismissed? Been there, done that.

        Aside from issues of absolutism, the fact is that most guns used in crimes are not purchased via mistakes or malfeasance from FFLs (or at gun shows where 4473 forms may or not be filled out). They are with stolen guns such as the one used to execute that cop in NYC a couple days ago. If we want to put the hammer down, we really ought to put it down on safe storage laws. I’ve looked at the data and so has Mike. At least in New Mexico, most illicit gun issues are traced to theft, not 4473’s. Which is one reason I bought a sturdy safe last year. I got a hefty tax rebate on my rooftop solar panels as they are thought to benefit society. I suggest that purchase and use of gun safes, if we can prove they are used honorably, likewise get a carrot and if proven to not be used, a stick.

      • Of course he could. But give law enforcement some credit. If ATF does an inspection and discovers 4 guns missing paperwork out of 11,000 transactions, it’s pretty difficult to say that this was a dealer who was intending to skirt the law. On the other hand, if they do an inspection and disciver that paperwork on 4 guns are missing for every 100 transactions, then they might be looking at someone who is intending to skirt the law. The ATF inspects lots of dealers, they know what they are looking at and they also hear about guns that show up in crime situations that come again and again from the same gun shop. But to simpl;y say that every time someone makes a ‘mistake’ they should be prosecuted to the full esxtent of the law is absurd and isn’t the way our legal system works.

  6. In virtually every comment, you make assumptions which aren’t true. In fact, Dave’s store had exactly the video system which that potential law described and it was the existence of that system, in fact, whioch helped nail the guy who stole the guns which you were convinced in a previous comment showed that he wasn’t running his shop properly.
    So now you have come up with the ‘mythic’ Glock and the ‘mythic’ video system. Any other myths you’d like to invent?

    • Just doing a back of the envelope calculation for an audiovisual stream of say, 640×480 resolution (standard definition) I get about a terabyte of storage for a camera that is on ten hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year. Just checked Amazon and a 5 terabyte seagate external drive was 120 bucks. So I guess one would have to have several cameras, hard drives, backups, and that after hours triggering system. Sounds like at least a few thousand bucks for a system, but that’s guessing.

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