Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
The government is using paperwork errors as small as the abbreviation of a city name to shut down some of the nation’s longest-serving gun shops, and 2nd Amendment advocates fear the right to bear arms will mean little if there’s no way to obtain a gun.
“No good deed goes unpunished,” Larry Pratt, of Gun Owners of America, told WND while confirming that as recently as 15 or 20 years ago, there were 250,000 licensed gun dealers in the United States.
Today, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told WND, there are 108,381, and if more cases involving dealers such as Red’s Trading Post of Twin Falls, Idaho, develop, that number will plummet quickly.
Ryan Horsley, a spokesman for Red’s, which has been in business 71 years, said the store has been battling over its license because of rules infractions such as a missing poster for more than six years.
Red’s manager Ryan Horsley
He’s launched an online petition asking Congress to intervene and halt the “blatant targeting of law abiding dealers.” It also seeks a “fair, constitutional and speedy appeals process” and has attracted thousands of signatures.
His company also has a federal lawsuit pending against the ATF over its announcement that Red’s firearms dealership license was being withdrawn.
Attorney Mark Geston said the case asks the court to review the statute and the “propriety” of the decision that was made.
Horsley said the reason Red’s is facing a revocation is – at most – insignificant paperwork mistakes.
“Imagine having your driver’s license revoked because you did not completely spell out the word ‘no’ when answering a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question on your application five years ago,” his petition asks.
He told WND the inspectors begin with efforts to locate any petty violation they can, usually clerical mistakes. “They list these errors as ‘willful’ which Congress set in the wording to protect FFL dealers,” he said. “The dealer’s Federal Firearms License is then revoked and the dealer must enter an appeals process which is extremely unfair.”
He said essentially the appeal of a ATF decision goes directly to the people who originally made the decision.
“This is the equivalent of being in court and having the prosecuting attorney act as an adviser to the judge,” Horsley said. The result forces the business, if owners want to continue operating, to sue in federal court.
Pratt told WND, “the power that has enabled ATF to take away people’s licenses to do business” continues unabated.
Pratt said many gun dealers were closed down when Congress allowed local municipalities to recommend denial depending upon the location of the gun dealership.
The founder of Red’s, “Red” Kinney, and son Jesse
And he noted a family gun business that had been operation in Baltimore, Md., for years was attacked because of the “wanton, repeated crime” of abbreviating Baltimore as “Blto” on the “teeny, tiny spaces on the forms provided by the teeny, tiny little minds.”
The agency holds, he said, a “continuing animas against gun owners and dealers.”
The inspectors have no handbook under which to operate, and the absence of such written procedures allows them to be arbitrary and capricious.
Horsley described to WND his experiences with those very actions.
The ATF inspection of Red’s in 2000 discovered various paperwork violations, he said, just shortly after he arrived to take over the store, mistakes such as a customer failing to write down the county in which he lived.
In 2001, “they couldn’t find any violations,” he told WND. A few other minor problems were found later, including a failure to put up a poster.
“I wasn’t alarmed because this agent … had told us we were one of the best small gun shops he’d ever seen,” Horsley told WND.
Then early in 2006, “We get a letter that ‘We’re [ATF] revoking your license,’” Horsley said. “I just came unglued. I couldn’t believe it.”
After an expensive appeal process within ATF, he ended up with the same result, and sought out a lawyer for the federal court challenge.
During the appeal process, the penalty had been delayed, so the store could continue its business. But once the federal court challenge was filed, the ATF announced that the store now was a “threat to public safety” and no longer would be able to acquire firearms.
Horsley told WND he still was allowed to sell whatever he had, but couldn’t purchase more stock. His stock plummeted from 1,000 guns to 160 and two workers were laid off before an emergency run to federal court obtained a ruling from U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge that allows the store to continue operations – for now.
The judge found “the ATF speaks of violations found during the inspections of 2000 and 2005, but fails to reveal that additional investigations in 2001 and 2007 revealed no violations or problems.”
The judge also noted the ATF was exaggerating the situation by “double counting” some violations.
Horsley said the key issue is that the inspectors make the determination that any errors were “willful.” He said the first inspection results in a warning for whatever clerical errors are found; then the next inspection makes the assumption any errors are willful, even if none of the original mistakes was repeated.
Horsley said one inspector told another – in front of a store worker who noted the exchange, that, “We’re going to keep doing this until we find something.”
He said the number of gun dealers dropped from 1994-2005 by nearly 80 percent and revocations are up nearly six times from 2001-2006. The ATF declined to share information on cases with WND, citing the confidentiality required in an open investigation.
But on a blog on his store’s website, Horsley described one situation that happened just a few weeks ago:
The ATF came in yesterday at about 10 a.m. and stayed until around 6 p.m. attempting to find violations to submit to the judge. They did give us a pass on one of the violations. A customer wrote his middle initial instead of a full middle name. We let them know that the customer does not even have a middle name and only an initial. They still told us they would let that pass. So, I am overflowing with gratefulness right now.
I questioned Linda Young (the Area Supervisor) on the last violation that we did not have our records in PERFECT alphabetical order, stating that if you wanted to read the policy literally then we should have to keep all of our records in full alphabetical order and not separated by year despite this being the way nearly all records are kept by dealers. She agreed and then stated that she had the authority to overrule procedures and policies. When I brought up the issue that [an] ATF Inspector … advised us to keep them in the previous order that we were cited for, she then stated that inspectors did not have the authority to overrule procedures and policies.
Why was [the inspector] not cited or suspended for providing us incorrect information? We were cited for a violation on incorrect information.
He continued: “This is not just happening to us though and is becoming a common trend throughout the United States … Why would we honestly put our license, reputation and over 70 years in business in jeopardy? We would never condone illegal activity, we have always gone above and beyond what is asked of us and will continue to do so.”
Horsley’s store, meanwhile, has paid about $70,000 in legal fees so far to avoid his only other option – to lock the doors and go away.
And Pratt said such actions – and expenses – are common.
One dealership in Texas already has paid about $600,000 in fees and expenses to fight to retain its license. That case started with the complaint that bullets from a shooting range near the store were polluting groundwater – even though no test ever had been done to confirm that.
Meanwhile, the publicity campaigns and stunts arranged by high-profile activists opposed to guns continue to muddy the water by making unsubstantiated allegations about gun dealers, they noted.
Jesse Jackson recently appeared at an anti-gun rally outside a gun shop in the Chicago area, a shop that has been targeted multiple times. The protesters have claimed weapons sold at the store have been used to commit murder.
“We must turn our mourning into marching,” Jackson said. He was joined by the mother of Blair Holt, 16, who died in a gunman’s rampage on a bus.
“To all those people watching me: It could be your child next. So, you better stand up and do something now,” said Annette Holt.
Jackson compared gun retailers to the insurgency in Iraq.
“These guns are killing police, civilians, they’re killing our children,” he said. “In Iraq, they’d call that an insurgent’s base.”
Rebecca Hazen, however, had a different view. She and her husband for years had run Blue Lakes Sporting Goods, also in Twin Falls, and competed with Red’s. They shut down after their firearms license was revoked just a few months ago.
“No government agency should have the right to take away our right to do business,” she wrote. “Without a gun license, we had no reason to continue our business… I believe government has been unable to take guns from the hands of citizens or sue gun manufacturers out of business, so they will use government agencies to revoke licenses one at a time until there are no stores to buy guns.”
“I encourage every gun owner to step forward and let their senators and congressmen know how we feel about the ATF’s power to revoke licenses and close up businesses. The ATF should be stopped before there are no guns left to buy. Let your voice be heard,” she wrote.