Gun control group takes aim at Coble

by Jordan Green

The nation’s most high profile gun-control organization set its sites last week on Rep. Howard Coble, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security. The Republican congressman from Greensboro is the sponsor of federal legislation that would relax regulation on gun merchants by giving dealers whose licenses have been revoked two months to liquidate their inventory and greater ability to appeal enforcement actions by federal agencies.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence released a report, Death Valley: Profile of a Rogue Gun Dealer, on June 29 that drew critical attention to the Coble bill, which is entitled ‘“Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Modernization and Reform Act of 2006.’” The Brady Center report charges that the proposed law ‘“would gut ATF’s ability to revoke corrupt gun dealers’ firearms licenses.

‘“The legislation would require ATF to permit gun dealers with revoked licenses to continue selling guns through years of legal appeals even if a federal district court ordered the store to cease gun sales,’” the report continues. ‘“It would also make it easier for gun dealers with revoked licenses to evade license revocation by transferring operations to friends or family.’”

The National Rifle Association, not surprisingly, has come out on the other side of the issue. A public statement released on the same day as the Brady Center report states that the Coble bill is among the association’s top legislative priorities, and applauds Republican lawmakers for including gun ownership legislation in a so-called ‘“American Values Agenda.’”

The press statement shoehorns the cause of buying and selling firearms free of onerous government intrusion into a broad ‘“America and apple pie’” theme by quoting House Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The quote attributed to Blunt reads as follows: ‘“Family, faith, patriotism and hard work bind us together as Americans. Our laws should reflect those priorities, and House Republicans are committed to the American Values Agenda, policies that stress the core values on which our nation was built.’”

Coble could not be reached on June 30, as he was flying from Washington, DC to a Farm Bureau picnic in Davidson County. His press secretary forwarded a statement issued the same day, quoting the congressman as saying that congressional hearings he chaired earlier in March ‘“demonstrated the need for reforming BATFE’s authorities to ensure due process, focus its mission, and improve conditions.’”

Coble’s critics at the Brady Center make a case study of Valley Gun Shop, a Baltimore, Md., business owned by National Rifle Association Board member Sanford Abrams. The Brady Center calls Valley Gun Shop ‘“one of the top suppliers of crime guns in the nation,’” based on more than 900 violations of federal gun laws from 1996, when Abrams went into business, to 2003. An ATF spokesman confirmed to YES! Weekly that the agency revoked Valley Gun Shop’s firearms license in 2004. Since that time, according to the Brady Center, Abrams has continued to sell guns while appealing his case to the federal courts, even vowing to stay in business after a federal district judge upheld the license revocation in February.

‘“Corrupt gun dealers are the source of the largest number of guns diverted to the illegal market,’” the Brady Center report argues. ‘“Rogue dealers frequently have hundreds of guns ‘disappear’ from their stores ‘— firearms that have left the store’s inventory without a record of sale. While most dealers have few guns unaccounted for, corrupt dealers frequently sell guns ‘off the books’ at gun shows and have high numbers of missing guns.’”

The Brady Center report cites legal briefs filed by the US Department of Justice in Abrams’ federal court case to document how the ATF uncovered wide-scale violations by Valley Gun Shop.

‘“Abrams’ records showed that his store had a total of 1,524 firearms in its inventory, yet only 1,102 were actually in the store or otherwise accounted for,’” the report states. ‘“A total of 422 guns were missing, amounting to more than 27% of the store’s firearms inventory. Valley Gun claimed that 135 of these guns had been sold without recording the sale in its disposition records as required by federal law. As to the remaining 287 missing guns, Abrams reported in August 31, 2003 that all of these firearms were lost or stolen, months after ATF discovered that the firearms were nowhere to be found in Abrams’ store.’”

Photos published in the report that were reportedly taken in June show Valley Gun Shop advertising a ‘“blow-out sale’” in its window, while a sign at the address next door ‘— real estate reportedly owned by Abrams’ mother ‘— announces, ‘“Coming soon: Just Guns.’”

Coble says his bill balances the need to provide the ATF ‘“with effective tools to investigate violations of our nation’s gun laws’” and the need to ensure ‘“that individual civil liberties are respected’” by imposing graduated civil penalties on businesses that violate federal firearms law, requiring that firearms licensing decisions be performed by neutral administrative law judges, and establishing formal investigative guidelines.

The Brady Center worries that such legislation will allow figures like Abrams to flout the law even longer than they have in the past.

‘“Valley Gun’s ability to stay in business despite years of repeated violations of federal law and hundreds of crime gun sales,’” the report concludes, ‘“makes it clear that ATF’s ability to crack down on rogue gun dealers must be strengthened, not weakened.’”

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