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U.S. gun dealers with the most firearms traced over the past four years
Of the leading stores with Mexican traces, Lone Wolf, eighth on the nationwide list, is No. 1 on the Mexico list. Over the past two years, it had 185 of its guns recovered and traced south of the border. Geography is a prime factor in those traces.
Drive 10 miles north from Reynosa, Mexico, and you'll find a string of four unrelated stores that ranked on the list with the most traces to Mexico. One of those is Glick Twins, which sells guns out of a two-story building in Pharr, Tex., and ranks No. 2 on the list with about 165 traces. Robert Glick, owner of the store, did not return a phone call.
A Glick Twins advertisement on YouTube encourages handguns for protection.
"The time to own at least two pistols," a narrator says, "has never been more important than now."
One ATF gun trafficking case began at Glick Twins by accident. Two Department of Public Safety criminal investigators happened to be in the store in April when they overheard a customer "inquiring about how many AK-47s he could purchase at one time" and whether clerks were "going to notify ATF about his gun purchases," a court record said.
The investigators tipped off police, and the man was pulled over as he drove away from the store. He told the ATF that he and another man had purchased 16 to 20 firearms for a man named Chuy, who paid them about $500 apiece, and that Chuy then took the weapons to Mexico. The men pleaded guilty to lying on federal forms and are to be sentenced in January.
Third with about 130 traces is J&G Sales in Prescott, Ariz. Owner Brad Desaye says the family-owned business has been in operation for 33 years. His father opened a gun store in Montana in 1946.
"We've been in business for a lot of years, and we've sold a lot of firearms," Desaye said. "That number of traces is far less than one percent of the number of firearms we've sold in the last two years."
Several times a year, J&G also has large booths at gun shows.
"We're very meticulous and vigilant in our requirements," Desaye said. "We turn down a lot of transactions. If a person says, 'I want five guns,' they don't know what they're looking at, they step back and make a phone call - hey, this transaction is over. Do not step back in the store."
"Unfortunately, if someone comes in and knows what they're talking about and answers all the questions and we get a trace a month later, there's really not much we can do," he said.
Fourth is Danny's Pawn & Sporting Goods in downtown McAllen, Tex., with 12o traces. Owner Daniel Gallegos said he had no idea that his store ranked that high.
"That's news to us," he said.
He blamed it on the fact that his store is about 10 miles from the border.
"It might be the area we're living in," he said. "That's probably the reason."
About seven miles west is the store No. 5: A cademy Sports and Outdoors , with 95 traces. A family-owned chain based in Houston, Academy has 128 stores throughout the South, including eight along the border with Mexico. With the violence increasing and more guns being traced to Academy's outlets, about a year ago the chain removed all tactical weapons, such as AK-47s and AR-15s, from the shelves of its border stores.
"We voluntarily and proactively took several actions that would ensure our firearms sales don't contribute to border violence," spokeswoman Elise Hasbrook said.
Academy also limits sales of such weapons, favored by drug cartels, to one per customer, counts its weapons twice a day and audits the inventory weekly, Hasbrook said.
About 40 miles east in Harlingen, Tex., Valley Guns ranked No. 6 with about 90. Valley Guns closed a few years ago, and the building was sold to a shop called Valley Beauty Supply after the retirement of owner Paul W. Rosamond, according to his friend Joseph B. Vasquez. Also a dealer, Vasquez keeps Valley Guns' archives in case the ATF needs to trace a gun.
"When you're sitting on the Mexican border, those things can happen," Vasquez said. "Who are we to deny a gun to a guy who says, 'I'm just out of the Army and I want to buy this or that.' "
No. 7 is the Carter's Country flagship store in Spring, Tex., with 95 traces. The rustic-style building echoes with gunshots throughout the day from a shooting range just out the back door. Bill Carter's office is in the building, and it is where he runs his four-store operation. The shop includes a gallery of dozens of wild animals from around the world, many bagged by Carter, who lives next door in a ranch-style home.
While court records show that Carter's Country employees have tipped off law enforcement to illegal sales, two former employees who filed wrongful-termination suits have leveled complaints that the company places profits above ferreting out straw buyers and illegal purchases. Carter's Country has denied the allegations in court records. One of the suits was settled for a small sum, and the other was dismissed. Carter declined requests for an interview.
Dallas-based Bachman Pawn and Guns, No. 8 with 65 traces, ended up on the list, owner Shaun Nelms said, because "we're mainly a wholesaler. We sell to other licensed dealers. Ninety-nine percent of our traces have been to other dealers."
No. 9 is Collectors Firearms in Houston with 60 traces, which owner Mike Clark attributes mostly to high volume. Clark said it was a small number, "given what's going on down there." His stucco building in a strip mall belies the trove of antique firearms displayed in delicate glass-and-wooden cases. The curios draw buyers from around the nation.
An expert in American firearms dating to the Revolutionary War, Clark recently gave a two-hour lecture on historic weaponry in his collection at an antiques show in Houston. Alongside muskets and Remingtons, new and used AK-47s and AR-15s can be found in a gun rack on the floor next to the front door. Clark said he would not oppose an ATF proposal to require dealers to report bulk sales of tactical rifles favored by drug-trafficking organizations.
With about 60 Mexican traces, Western Firearms in Bell, Calif., outside Los Angeles, ranks 10th. Owner Aurelio Lopez did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Western, a family-owned business, has been selling firearms for 40 years, according to its Web site.
Eleventh on the list with 55 traces is Sprague's Sports in Yuma, Ariz., which advertises itself as having "SW Arizona's largest firearm selection." Owner Richard Sprague's family has been in business more than 80 years in Yuma, and his grandfather built a hotel on the same property in 1929 when the area was all desert. The Yuma County Chamber of Commerce this month awarded Sprague's, which has been selling guns for 54 years, its Member of the Month award.
Sprague blames his traces on large volume and longevity. Sprague says he has hundreds of customers a day. But it's also location, he said, with the border only eight miles away.
He said it's difficult to catch straw purchasers buying guns for Mexico.
"They've learned how to loophole the system," he said. "They know how to act correctly and answer questions correctly. It is coached and taught, and it's hard to discern."
Sprague, whose father worked for the Yuma County sheriff's department for 22 years, said his store works closely with the ATF.
"We feel like we're part of the team," he said. "That's what you sign up for when you take on the responsibility of being in this business."
Rounding out the top 12 is another Carter's Country outlet in Texas, along the busy Katy Freeway. With 40 traces, the Houston store is probably the second-busiest of the Carter's chain, which Dun & Bradstreet estimates brings in between $1 million and $2.5 million annually.
A gun sold out of the store landed Carter's in a lawsuit in 1997, and around that time Carter began seeking to put the trace data out of public reach. Alek Ambrosio, 21, was killed in a carjacking with a gun stolen by a gang member. The man's parents sued, alleging poor security meant that hundreds of weapons went missing. An appeals court cleared Carter's, ruling that the gun had changed hands so many times that the retailer could not be held liable.
Staff researchers Madonna Lebling and Lucy Shackelford and research editor Alice Crites contributed to this report.