Shoot the Messenger?

The Brady Campaign puts a Philadelphia shop on its list of the 10 worst gun dealers in America.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 24, 2003

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Another says "LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINING ACADEMY," which seems like it might be a reference to the indoor shooting range the store also operates. But the Police Department's public affairs unit reports the store has no relationship with the force. No contracts for weapons, equipment, target practice or anything else.

Inside the long, narrow shop, mostly high-end handguns sit in a series of locked display cases. Colosimo's front door is locked, too. Customers must be buzzed inside by a store employee.

In the span of 20 minutes on a recent Tuesday afternoon, seven people visit the shop. Two ask where they can get a gun permit, two go to the shooting range, two browse for handguns, and one knucklehead acts a little too young and eager for the counter woman's tastes.

"Do you have an ID?" she asks. "Are you 21?"

"Yeah," the guy replies, but makes no move for his wallet.

"Let's see it," she says.

"Yeah," he says, peering down through the glass at an $895 gun.

"Now," she says. "If you're of age you can hang out here all day. If you're not you've got to go."

The young man pulls out some kind of odd yellow-and-white cardboard-looking piece of identification.

"A driver's license," the woman says. "That's what I need. You got a driver's
license?"

The young man starts to hem and haw.

"You've got to go," says the counter woman, curtly. And he goes.

Life in a gun shop means security, furtive glances and the ever-present specter of capital-T trouble. After all, the store's inventory can be used for recreation and self-protection or robbery, rape and murder, and that brings us back to the Brady Campaign.

The Brady "bad apple" list uses statistics taken from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and documents the gun suppliers with the nation's highest number of crime-gun traces between December 1989 and the end of 1996. Those are old numbers, but they're the most recent the Campaign can get.

In that time span, 425 guns originally sold at some point in Colosimo's history were recovered from a crime scene. Perhaps more important, 206 of those guns were recovered within three and a half years from the time of sale, which is considered a sign the gun may have been diverted at the point of sale, most likely by a straw purchaser.


"We're not saying the owner of Colosimo's is a bad person or a criminal," says Rob Wilcox, spokesperson for the Brady Campaign (which, by the way, calls itself "The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence United With the Million Mom March"). "What we are saying is that criminals seem to show a distinct preference for guns that come from that store, and we think those figures should be part of the public debate."

Dealers aren't legally culpable in a straw purchase if they reasonably believe the straw man is an actual buyer. But across the country, criminals do seem to show a preference for guns from specific dealers.

In 1998 Bill Clinton first stumped on "bad apple" dealers, citing statistics from a then-new ATF report that just 1.2 percent of the nation's gun dealers accounted for a staggering 57 percent of the guns traced to crime. Other studies have also shown that the vast majority of the nation's gun dealers, in any given year, receive zero traces, meaning such traces may not just be the cost of doing business.

To further implicate firearms dealers in the process that leads to criminals pocketing guns, former gun industry lobbyist Robert Ricker--who spent about 15 years working for the NRA among numerous other clients--recently filed an affidavit in a suit against the industry he once supported. Ricker cited ATF agents' claims that if the same dealer shows up in a gun trace even "three or four" times in a single year, that "may indicate a significant trafficking problem."

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