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The ATF Is Supposed To Hold Gun Dealers Accountable. Is It?

Officers load weapons confiscated during a takedown in Lakewood, California.
Officers load weapons confiscated during a takedown in Lakewood, California.

Investigators for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are responsible for compliance and enforcement.

But new reporting calls into question the agency’s ability to provide any meaningful oversight of the firearms industry.

From The Trace, in partnership with USA TODAY:

Reporters spent more than a year analyzing documents from nearly 2,000 gun dealer inspections that uncovered violations from 2015 to 2017. The reports showed some dealers outright flouting the rules, selling weapons to convicted felons and domestic abusers, lying to investigators and fudging records to mask their unlawful conduct. In many cases when the ATF caught dealers breaking the law, the agency issued warnings, sometimes repeatedly, and allowed the stores to operate for months or years. Others are still selling guns to this day.

More than half of all stores with violations transferred guns without running a background check correctly, waiting for the check to finish or properly recording the results. More than 200 dealers were cited for selling guns to people who indicated on background check paperwork that they were prohibited from owning them. Dozens made false statements in official records, a violation that includes facilitating illegal straw purchases.

We talk with two reporters behind the investigation — plus, how President Biden’s pick to head the ATF, David Chipman, could shape the agency.

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