Gun Seller's Case Reveals Hurdles Of Enforcement
Sunday, July 23, 2006
PARKVILLE, Md. -- Sanford M. Abrams began selling guns from his shop in Baltimore County in 1996 and almost immediately started losing track of them.
In 1997, he couldn't account for 45. In 2001, it was 133. In 2003, there were 422 firearms missing -- more than a quarter of his inventory -- including semiautomatic assault rifles, 12-gauge shotguns and Glock 9mm pistols, according to federal investigators.
This year, a decade after he started losing track of guns, Abrams's store lost its firearms license. But he still intends to sell guns.
The tale of Abrams and his Valley Gun Shop -- which regulators describe in court records as "a serial violator" that has "endangered the public" -- illustrates the difficulty government regulators face in shutting down even those dealers found to have persistently flouted the nation's gun laws. The controversy is the subject of fierce debate in Congress.
Abrams, a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors, did not dispute the substance of more than 900 violations of federal gun laws filed against his store. But he called them unintentional recordkeeping errors that posed no threat to public safety and said it is impossible for anyone to comply with all firearms regulations.
The dispute has heightened scrutiny of new federal legislation, strongly backed by the NRA, that federal officials said would cripple their ability to revoke gun licenses. The bill, which would make it more difficult to close down gun shops without evidence of criminal intent, also could allow Valley Gun to resume sales of firearms, the lawmaker sponsoring the measure said.
Even if the bill is defeated, Abrams plans to use a provision in existing law to sell 700 guns left over from his shop's inventory at a soon-to-be-opened store called Just Guns, which will sell them on consignment. Its location? Next door to Valley Gun, on property owned by his family.
"What do people want me to do? Grind them up into itty-bitty pieces and make manhole covers out of them? Sorry, I don't think so," Abrams said. "The Second Amendment gives me the right to own and sell guns, and that's what I'm going to do."
Abrams, 57, peppers his conversation with obscenities, many of them directed at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and styles himself as one of the most outspoken gun store owners in the country. He has sued ATF three times and claims it has a vendetta against him.
Most days, from opening at 10 a.m. to closing at 6 p.m., he can be found behind the counter, selling unregulated guns and accessories at Valley Gun, a tiny white-brick store in this largely working-class Baltimore suburb. A signed thank-you note from President Bush for campaign work hangs in the store.
The business has been owned by his family since 1954, but its problems with ATF didn't begin until Abrams became president after his father died in 1996.
The decade-long battle between Abrams and ATF has centered on strict federal laws that require dealers to keep detailed records on their inventory and customers who buy firearms so law enforcement officials can trace guns found in criminal investigations to their original purchasers and prevent guns from falling into the hands of criminals.