ATF Requires Psychic Powers of FFL’s

            (Manassas, VA, 5 June 2007)  The antics of New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, rather than raising questions about the integrity of federally licensed firearms dealers, should be raising questions about the expectations and legal liabilities placed on those dealers.  Current law appears to require a dealer and all of his employees to be skilled mind readers, able to accurately determine the relationship, intentions, and honesty of each of their customers.  The penalties for poor psychic abilities can be personally and professionally devastating, including up to 10 years in prison and a quarter-million dollar fine – for each count!  It is time for gun-voters to demand some relief for these beleaguered businesses.  

For over a year now Bloomberg has been attacking licensed firearms dealers in court for allowing firearms transactions to go forward in the face of certain “red flag” actions by the purchasers – his hired shills.  He shows us a grainy video of a middle-aged couple entering a gun store; she wanders around while he examines several guns and decides which one they want to purchase.  Then she comes back to fill out the paperwork and make the purchase.

            According to Bloomberg, the dealer should have stopped the sale because it looked like the woman might have been purchasing the gun on the man’s behalf and the dealer should have recognized this as possibly being an illegal “straw man” purchase.  What it also looked like is a typical husband and wife comfortably sharing the responsibilities of the purchase.  In Bloomberg’s world, the dealer should interrogate his customers to determine whether or not they are criminals because in Bloomberg’s world, anyone who chooses to purchase or own a firearm is automatically suspect, a potential criminal.

Of course, if the dealer does stop the purchase, he loses not only the firearm sale, but the sale of any accessories to go along with the firearm and all future sales to this couple (who will likely be deeply offended at the suggestion that they might be gun smugglers).  In the process of throwing away his livelihood with such accusations, the dealer is going to have to explain why he halted the sale, including an explanation of the behaviors which constitute “red flags.” 

If the halted transaction really was a “straw man” attempt, he is simply educating the criminals who will immediately take their newfound knowledge to the next gun store they can find and make their purchase more carefully, being sure to avoid any “red flag” behaviors.  Everyone else whose transaction is halted will do exactly the same thing.  Either way, the dealer loses immediate and future business, but at best has possibly delayed a criminal purchase.

It is up to the firearms dealer and his employees to distinguish between a person purchasing a gun for himself or as a gift and a person purchasing a gun on someone else’s behalf – even someone else who could legally purchase the gun for themselves.  Even if the transaction is completely legal, the dealer can still face repercussions if he fails to halt the sale if the buyers exhibit a behavior that a third party thinks the dealer should have recognized as an indicator of a potential “straw purchase.”

This is the case in the Bloomberg stings; both of the customers involved in each of the stings could have legally purchased a gun (most of them were former police officers and reports suggest that all of them were licensed private detectives), but they intentionally presented certain subtle behaviors in order to “simulate straw purchases.”  In cases where the dealer failed to halt the sale based on these “red flag” behaviors (even though he was correct in his perception that the customers were actually upstanding citizens with a legal right to make the purchase), the result was a crippling civil suit.

But what is really outrageous is how the firearms industry members and trade associations have reacted.  In the face of absurd demands, industry associations, dealer trade groups, and the gun dealers themselves have simply rolled over.  Instead of challenging the very premise of the charges – that they are being held to a standard that is unreasonable on its face, the industry has hunkered down, expending their efforts on teaching dealers how to comply.  Dealers already have to get specific permission from federal bureaucrats every time they wish to sell a gun and they must maintain extensive records as long as they are in business.  Why should they accept a requirement that they be psychic?