U.S. gun dealers with the most firearms traced over the past four years

By Sari Horwitz and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 13, 2010; 9:55 PM

A decade ago, politicians and the press routinely reported on gun stores across the nation that had the most traces for firearms recovered by police. In 2003, under pressure from the gun lobby, Congress passed a law that hid from public view the government database that contained the gun tracing information.

The Washington Post has obtained the names of the gun dealers nationwide with the most traces over the past four years. In addition, The Post has uncovered the names of the dealers, all from border states, with the most traces from guns recovered in Mexico over the past two years.

A high number of guns traced to a store does not necessarily signal wrongdoing. The number of traces a store generates is shaped by many factors, including volume, the type of guns sold, geography and clientele.

Topping the overall list with about 2,390 traces is Vance Outdoors in Columbus, Ohio. Owner Todd Vance said his that grandfather started the business on Cleveland Avenue in 1938 and that the store is a top source for shooters, hunters, anglers and boaters in central Ohio.

"We are one of the higher-volume gun dealers," he said. "We sell thousands of guns."

Vance said that he and his employees are "very vigilant" about straw purchases, in which someone buys for a person prohibited from owning a gun, and that they turn down 10 to 20 suspicious sales a week. He said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducts a month-long inspection annually.

"We're as honest as the day is long," Vance said. "We want to stay in this business. We try to do everything humanly possible on our end to ensure sales are legitimate."

No. 2 on the list is Hyatt Coin & Gun in Charlotte, with about 2,055 traces. Larry Hyatt's father opened the store in 1959. Hyatt's 81-year-old mother runs the cash register, and his wife and son work in the 20,000-square-foot store.

"We're not going to let anything go wrong here," said Hyatt, 63. "No one here is going to disobey the law. Nobody buys a gun from this store without being checked out."

Hyatt said the high number of traces is a public relations problem - "It just doesn't sound good" - but he attributed it to large volume and longevity.

"We're one of the oldest gun stores and sell the most guns in the Southeast," he said. "We've sold nearly a million guns. We have a 6,000-gun inventory and sell 50 guns a day. People buy here from 100 miles away because I have four gunsmiths to repair guns."

Most times, Hyatt said, the guns recovered in crimes don't come directly from his store. Once firearms leave his store, he said, they can be stolen or sold to another person on the street or at a gun show, and often they are resold several times. Guns are also inherited when a firearms owner dies.

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