Lawmakers cite a recent investigation by USA TODAY and The Trace as evidence that more needs to be done to regulate the country’s gun dealers.
When the New York legislature passed a bill to crack down on stray gun traffickers last week, its author, Senator Zellnor Myrie, praised The Trace / USA TODAY’s “explosive report” . Myrie said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is a disgrace for not ensuring stricter oversight of the gun industry.
“You can read these reports and see state by state the guns pouring into New York,” the Democrat said. “The ATF has fallen short and the industry has been immune from legal action. If the ATF doesn’t tackle these bad actors, then the victims should be able to do it themselves.
U.S. Representative Joe Morelle, a Democrat in upstate New York who drafted legislation to strengthen regulations governing gun dealers, has vowed to continue pushing for budget increases to help the ATF to conduct inspections in a more consistent manner. He said the USA TODAY / The Trace investigation showed him there were systemic issues within the agency that could not be resolved with money alone.
The USA TODAY / The Trace investigation found that inspectors routinely document violations at stores across the country, only to be quashed by higher authorities to issue warning letters instead of revoking licenses.
Morelle said he found it “breathtaking” and “incredibly frustrating” how reluctant the ATF was to shut down dealerships with a long history of violations.
“A lot of compliance relies on a certain degree of sanctions,” Morelle said. “Unless there is a drastic change in attitude within the agency itself, all the money in the world and all the extra investigators won’t matter. ”
New York State Senator refers to USA TODAY / The Trace inquiry in gun dealer debate
The New York State Senate is debating the merits of using the public nuisance category to crack down on gun traffickers.
An ATF spokesperson said the office recently hired 20 new investigators and was recruiting 100 more investigators over the next year, “to increase inspections to ensure compliance and action. appropriate application “. The positions start at a salary of $ 37,674.
Morelle said he plans to ask the Justice Department for more information on the issues highlighted in the USA TODAY / The Trace report. He urged President Joe Biden’s choice to lead the ATF, David Chipman, to make reforming the inspection program a priority if the Senate confirms his appointment.
In a May 26 Judiciary Committee hearing, Chipman, a former ATF agent who now works for gun control group Giffords, came under scrutiny by a multitude of senators republicans. They questioned the impact of his activist roles on his tenure as director of the ATF.
Gun rights groups including the National Rife Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have stepped up their lobbying in recent days, especially with moderate senators who could influence the expected 50-50 vote.
Chipman declined to comment on The Trace / USA TODAY’s findings, but pledged during his confirmation hearing to review gun store inspections if approved as the next ATF director.
The investigation drew the attention of gun blogs and important voices. Cam Edwards, editor of BearingArms.com, accused the journalists behind the project of being anti-guns. He questioned the release schedule the same week as Chipman’s confirmation hearings.
While USA TODAY and The Trace’s new series is intended to bolster the argument that the ATF needs a permanent director like Chipman to get agents in shape and shut down gun stores that have violated several times the agency regulations, you can also make the argument that while the agency is truly as gentle on wayward gun dealers as reporters claim, an ATF veteran like Chipman did part of the problem, “Edwards wrote for the site.” After all, he spent 25 years as an ATF officer, including several years as head of the firearms division.
In Philadelphia, which suffers a record number of homicides this year, City Councilor Kenyatta Johnson said the USA TODAY / The Trace report underscored the need for the ATF to tackle the illegal circulation of firearms and ensure that weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.
“I haven’t seen ATF in the city of Philadelphia approaching this problem aggressively or with a sense of passion and dedication,” said Johnson, who chairs the council’s special committee on gun violence prevention. “I hope that the new president and the new head of the ATF will encourage them to take this kind of approach.”
Johnson also wants the ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division to do a better job of coordinating with state and local law enforcement to reduce the violence that disproportionately weighs on the lives of young black and brown men.
In the past 17 months, gunfire has injured or killed more than 800 Philadelphians under the age of 21. Mayor Jim Kenney has offered to spend $ 34 million on anti-violence initiatives in fiscal 2022, which begins July 1, but the violence has prompted Johnson and other city leaders to lobby to increase that amount to $ 100 million using federal coronavirus relief funds.
Johnson hopes the ATF will work closely with the city in his efforts.
“We need to take a holistic approach to research where illegal guns are coming from and to address the issue of gun shops and gun shows selling guns to people who may not be qualified to own them, ”Johnson said. “This means that local law enforcement, state law enforcement, and federal law enforcement must be involved.”
In New York, Myrie’s bill would expose gun dealers to civil lawsuits if plaintiffs could prove they have become a public nuisance – the legal standard that has been used to prosecute opioid manufacturers these last years. He cited the Trace / USA TODAY investigation as evidence that the so-called Iron Pipeline firearms trafficking corridor from the southern states to the New York metropolitan area remains a problem.
“You have to stop the flow of illegal weapons or this shooting problem will persist,” he said. “There is one set of rules for East Flatbush in Brooklyn and another for stores in Ohio, Florida and Georgia, it seems.”
The New York effort directly targets the Legal Trade in Arms Protection Act of 2005, which generally prohibits civil suits against gun manufacturers and dealers. One of the exceptions it seeks to exploit is known as the “primary exception” for prosecutions alleging violations of state nuisance laws. The legal battle has been examined by several federal courts of appeal which have reached different conclusions.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation opposes the measure. Larry Keane, the group’s senior vice president, described the legislation as misguided in a recent comment online.
“The (gun law) prevents activist litigators and gun control groups from blaming the industry for the criminal use of legal guns that are legally sold,” Keane wrote. . Sen. Myrie’s proposal would be akin to a state allowing a lawsuit against Ford for the actions of a drunk driver who killed someone after getting behind the wheel.
For this project, USA TODAY partnered with The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to improving public understanding of gun violence, increasing accountability, and identifying solutions.
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