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Crack down on 'bad apple' gun dealers

August 19, 2015
In The News

Charleston, South Carolina. Chattanooga, Tennessee. Lafayette, Louisiana. What do they have in common? Deaths of innocent people from guns.

For many Americans, the profound sadness of mass killings this summer in these cities is compounded by the frustrating sense that these events are being met with nothing more than hand-wringing and empty rhetoric.

This kind of bloodshed has become an accepted fact of American life, facilitated by an irresponsible corporate gun lobby and too many politicians, particularly Republican leadership in Congress that refuses to do the will of the American people. Yet, despite the polarizing politics that define this issue, there is still much that can be done to address the scourge of gun violence in America.

Dysfunction in Washington is no excuse for inaction in our cities, towns, states and communities. With 89 Americans killed every day by guns, and another 300 injured, we must act now to dramatically reduce gun injuries and deaths in America.

The time has come for responsible gun sellers to become stronger partners in the fight against gun violence, and for federal authorities to crack down on dishonest, irresponsible, and criminal gun dealers.

Across America, just 5% of gun dealers supply nearly 90% of all the crime guns that police recover on our streets. Gun dealers are the gatekeepers for ensuring that guns stay out of the wrong hands and it's time for them to play their part in keeping our communities safe.

    For example, a more scrupulous gun dealer in Charleston would have waited for the result of an FBI background check, which should have shown that Dylann Roof admitted to unlawful drug use. This would have denied the sale of the weapon that made it possible for Roof to walk into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and allegedly kill nine people, including its pastor, state Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney.

    The Charleston killer was able to obtain his handgun because of an absurd provision that provides gun dealers with the discretion to sell a gun to a prospective purchaser after three business days, even before the dealer knows whether the buyer has passed a Brady background check. Crucially, if the background check is not completed in three business days, we know that the buyer is much more likely to be a prohibited purchaser.

    In the Charleston case, the FBI has acknowledged that there was a breakdown in the system, but a completed and accurate Brady background check would have detected that Roof violated the law, and flagged him as a prohibited purchaser.

    Unfortunately, the circumstances in Charleston are hardly unique. In the past five years alone, dealers sold guns to more than 15,000 prohibited people. That's an average of more than 10 prohibited people securing access to guns each day thanks to irresponsible gun dealers.

    While Congress should certainly take action to close critical gaps in our gun laws and expand Brady background checks to all gun sales, gun dealers should not wait on Congress to take the steps necessary to prevent dangerous people from obtaining weapons.

    The Brady Campaign has devised a smart, simple Gun Dealer Code of Conduct that can dramatically reduce gun injuries and deaths now. Among its key provisions is a requirement that dealers not sell any gun without a completed background check -- a policy that Walmart, the nation's largest seller of firearms, voluntarily implemented in 2002, with success. Broad adoption of the Brady Code of Conduct would prevent dangerous people from getting guns and thus reduce gun crimes, injuries and deaths across the board.

    Similarly, there's no reason for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to wait to aggressively pursue America's top suppliers of crime guns.

    Indeed, this relatively small group of "bad apple" gun dealers is responsible for supplying almost the entire illegal market. In light of these troubling statistics, DOJ and ATF can and must do more to hold accountable gun dealers that put the public and our communities at risk.

    That is why we recently wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging her to lead a national effort to identify, reform, shut down, and -- where appropriate -- prosecute "bad apple" gun dealers.

    DOJ and ATF's efforts should include focused, annual inspections of dealers supplying crime guns and public disclosure of information related to the supply of crime guns. Armed with robust data, communities across the country will be better equipped to name and shame the "bad apple" dealers whose business practices put our families at risk -- a tactic we have already employed on a limited basis in Phoenix and other major cities.

    We don't need more mass killings like those in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona. Countless gun tragedies have incited plenty of pain and too little progress.

    Even as we fight to expand Brady background checks to all gun sales, including those online and at gun shows, we must insist that gun dealers in our communities adopt best business practices, and the Obama administration must commit to cracking down on those who can't -- or won't -- act responsibly.