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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"That's what we dealt with," says the ATF's Vince. "If there's no record there, it can be hard to prove there's any wrongdoing. But what would happen to a drug store if they failed to keep track of their painkillers? The DEA would be all over them."

Even highly publicized scandals involving gun stores often rate little to no reaction from either law enforcement or manufacturers.

The most egregious example remains Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Wash., which could not account for 150 weapons in its 2000 ATF audit, yet owner Brian Borgelt managed to stay in business long enough to supply the Bushmaster rifle used by the D.C. snipers. Bull's Eye could not account for the sale of that gun, either, yet Bushmaster declared it still considered the shop a "good customer."

After much adverse publicity, the ATF revoked Borgelt's license, but allowed a close friend of his to take over the shop. Borgelt still owns the building, and operates a shooting range on the property.

With such lax enforcement of federal firearms laws, the most meaningful incentive for store owners to run a lawful business may be their own conscience.

Jim Colosimo's own clear conscience probably provides little consolation after he got publicly pinned with the "bad apple" tag. And fellow dealer Weiner sympathizes.

"The numbers look like a lot," he says. "But look at the numbers he sells, total. Look at the area he's at. Basically, you have to trust the dealers and the methods the ATF has to oversee us."

Steve Volk (svolk@philadelphiaweekly.com) writes often about Safe Streets and related policing matters.


A Legal Solution?

Some think stricter gun laws would be the best way to combat straw purchasing. The one-handgun-per-month concept, which would certainly crimp the style of most straw men, remains a popular idea with anti-gun-violence groups and many law enforcement officials.

In the late '90s Mayor Ed Rendell worked hard to establish a one-gun-per-month law that impacted only handgun sales, allowing midstate hunters to buy as many rifles as their living room gun racks could hold. But the midstate troglodytes prevented the measure from passing.

Talk continues of another effort, which would no doubt include Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who testified before a Senate sub-committee during the last one-gun-per-month push. During her testimony, Abraham cited Lauretha Vaird, the city's first female officer to die in the line of duty, as the victim of a gun obtained through a straw purchase.

"Officer Vaird responded to a silent bank alarm," said Abraham, "indicating a robbery in progress. She was shot down as she entered the building, before she even saw the perpetrators. The gun used to kill officer Vaird was traced by the ATF and found to be a gun purchased by a straw purchaser and then delivered to one of the bank robbers, who was not eligible to purchase the gun himself."

In the Vaird case, the straw purchaser avoided prosecution by cooperating with investigators.

Straw men often flip, and because by their very definition they have no criminal records themselves, they rarely face prosecution. (From January 1999 through August 2003, the feds indicted just 204 people for straw purchasing.) So prohibiting multiple purchases of handguns might solve a lot of problems, limiting the speed with which bad guys can acquire firearms--and taking a big decision out of the hands of clerks.

--S.V.

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