USA Today and The Trace have studied extensive records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to conclude that the governmental agency rarely penalizes gun shops and vendors for violations. Even severe policy and legal violations like selling a firearm to a convicted domestic abuser who should have been on a strict “no-sell” list often result in mild consequences for the vendor. However, the relaxed policies could have extreme consequences on the American public. Some of the records examined revealed that offenders in several mass shootings were able to buy the firearms they used for their attacks from a gun shop that never should have made the sale in the first place.
The researchers for the newsgroups believe that, despite steep regulations throughout the gun industry in America, the regulations are mostly on paper only. When it comes to actually punishing negligent gun dealers and vendors, it appears that lobbyists like the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been able to help ensure those penalties never go far.
Reporters studied nearly 2,000 records from 2015 to 2017 to find concerning regulatory violations. Most violations were minor, but many were dramatic. Almost 50% of the stores with violations in the study had sold or transferred firearms without conducting a proper background check. About 200 vendors sold firearms to people who had admitted on the purchase paperwork that they were legally barred from owning them.
Some of the worst violations reporters found in the ATF records included:
- Selling to convicted felons and domestic abusers
- Intentionally misleading police and ATF investigators
- Fabricating company records to hide illegal sales
The penalties associated with many of these severe violations were almost nonexistent, the reporters found. Several gun shops that broke the law and sold weapons unlawfully are still conducting business and only ever got a written warning from the ATF.
Widespread ATF Violations in Kansas
According to the research, at least 45 gun vendors in Kansas had been investigated or penalized by the ATF. 3 of those vendors nearly lost their licenses to conduct business outright but were narrowly spared by a penalty downgrade to a written warning or a mandatory conference about industry regulations. The most common ATF violation among gun vendors in Kansas was failing to maintain records of firearm sales.
Relaxed ATF Investigations Have Dire Consequences
The ATF largely sitting on its hands instead of taking action against gun vendors in violation of its policies is not as benign a situation as it might seem. Indeed, the agency’s inaction and indecisions have cost people their lives.
In February 2016, a gunman shot 17 people in Newton and Hesston. He was able to get the weapons as a convicted felon because a pawn shop sold a pistol and a rifle to his girlfriend, who then gave the firearms to him. ATF investigators determined that the shop had a history of violations, like not checking IDs, selling to domestic abusers, and falsifying records. Yet the store was only warned by the ATF – no fines, no mandatory regulatory conferences, no license suspension, etc.
Attorney David Morantz of Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, Chtd. in Kansas City represented the surviving family members of one of the gunman’s victims in Hesston. With his help, they used the pawnshop for providing the weapons unlawfully to the gunman. The case concluded with a $2 million settlement, and the pawnshop eventually closed, but the damage had already been done and can never be reversed or lightened.
Can the ATF Be Sued for Negligence?
With so much not being done by the ATF to penalize gun shops that violate its own regulations, would it be possible to sue the government agency for negligence? It is difficult to sue the government for negligence, but it is not impossible. A larger study would likely be needed to determine how many mass shootings in recent years can be linked to an unlawful gun sale conducted at a shop that was inspected but not properly penalized by the ATF. In the meantime, one solution is to bring lawsuits against those individual gun shops for negligence that leads to deadly shootings, as did some of the families of the Newton and Hesston shooting victims.
To learn more about the concerning trend of ATF violations doing very little to penalize negligent gun dealers across the country, you can click here to view an article from The Topeka Capital-Journal. You can also view an extended article from USA Today by clicking here. Both articles feature quotes from Attorney Morantz regarding his involvement in the successful wrongful death and firearm injury case related to the Hesston mass shooting. For more information about Attorney Morantz or to get the legal help of our injury team at Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman, Chtd., call (816) 542-5999 or contact our firm online.