Hobbled by Congress, federal watchdogs rarely revoke the licenses of lawbreaking gun dealers, says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. When they do, stores can easily beat the system by having a relative, friend or employee pull a fresh license – something that routinely happens across the country. The newspaper identified more than 50 stores in 20 states over the past six years where such a move was made, wiping the operation’s slate clean. The review, which involved contacting more than 150 gun dealers, uncovered 34 additional stores with indications a revoked license holder remains connected to a gun-dealing operation. (A recent Washington Post investigation reached similar conclusions).
In Indianapolis, Popguns – a top dealer of crime guns according to data from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – had its license revoked in 2006. The business remains in operation after owner Mike Hilton’s wife received a fresh license and the violations disappeared. Mike Hilton remains closely involved. “The fact that I can be in here and work in the store other than in a clerk capacity, it is kind of asinine, I agree,” Hilton told the Journal Sentinel. “You revoke a license but then the person whose license is revoked, they can come right back in and can be an integral part of it.” The license loophole shows how Congress protects the biggest sellers of crime guns by crippling the enforcement agency responsible for regulating them – the focus of the newspaper’s “Wiped Clean” investigation, launched after a pair of Milwaukee police officers were severely wounded with a gun purchased from Badger Guns. Next year, lawmakers may further cripple ATF when they consider a law that would make it harder to revoke a firearms license. Gun store advocates argue the agency can be overzealous in inspections and go after licenses for petty violations, a charge the agency disputes.