A hundred times a year, regulators strip gun dealers of their licenses for violations of federal law, an extreme step taken only when repeated infractions are deemed a threat to public safety. A Washington Post investigation documented about 60 cases since 2003 in which the businesses stayed open, often re-licensed through relatives, employees, associates, or newly formed companies. “We’ll just have to play musical licenses,” the owner of a Michigan gun store said when a federal inspector served him with a final notice to surrender his license.
A California sports shop had its license revoked after Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives inspectors said the 87-year-old owner’s repeated violations of gun laws showed she was unable to run a gun business. Before she forfeited her license, the woman’s son obtained a permit to sell guns at the same shop. He said he would be at the shop two days a week and that his mother would “exclusively direct all day-to-day business.” Said an ex-ATF official: “If you’re being cited by ATF and you feel you’re about to lose your license, you can simply get another person to get a new license and you can transfer your inventory to that person. You don’t have to change location. You can keep the same business name. It’s like starting the business all over. You can still be working there. For the new licensee, it’s a clean slate.”