A D.C. City Council member has introduced legislation that would prohibit secondhand dealers from purchasing items of precious metals -- such as gold and silver -- from any seller who did not show specific proof of identity. g
The bill, introduced by David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), who chairs the council's judiciary committee, is similar to efforts in other local jurisdictions to put an end to the lucrative business of buying and selling valuable merchandise that has been stolen.
Jewelry and other artifacts made of metals such as gold, silver and bronze are an increasingly popular target of burglars in the metropolitan area at a time of rising public concern over the high crime rate. Stolen articles made of precious metals are sometimes melted down and sold outright to secondhand dealers or pawn shops, usually at high prices, with no questions asked.
"The problem now is the ease of it (selling precious metals)," Clarke said. "In a sense, now you have a legal fence" for stolen merchandise.
The Clarke bill would prohibit secondhand dealers in the city from buying any items of precious metal unless the seller first produced two documents of identification, including at least one paragraph. The dealer would then be required either to photograph or fingerprint the seller, and to pay for the merchandise by check.
Also, the Clarke bill would restrict dealers from purchasing any precious metal items that have been melted down, or on which the jewelers' marks have been obliterated. Dealers would be required hold such pieces for 24 hours before paying the seller, during such time the dealer must notify police.
The legislation also calls for a 30-day waiting period between the time the buyer first purchases a metal article and the time it may legally be resold.The District's current 15-day waiting period is being challenged in court.
The waiting period is to allow police time to determine if a precious metal item is actually hot, or stolen, merchandise. Dealers in other local jurisdictions have bitterly opposed waiting periods as brief as 15 days, arguing that the fluctuation of market prices on mist precious metals requires them to turn over merchandise as quickly as possible.
Prince George's County recently pased a precious-metals law requiring positive identification of all sellers of such articles, and prohibiting transactions exceeding $25 with anyone under 18, except with parental consent. Precious-metals dealers there successfully fought a 15-day waiting period, and the interval was set at five days.
Clarke said the requirement of photographs or fingerprints should not impose any economic hardship on secondhand dealers. He said his staff is checking on the price of the expensive instant camera available in the city, which should be somewhere around $20. That price, Clarke said, should represent a nominal expense to a dealer, considering the current market value on precious metals.
The bill, which was referred to Clarke's judiciary committee, has not yet been scheduled for public hearing or debate.