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Database reveals gun shop violations in Hampton Roads, how federal agents track them

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Apr 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-07 13:23:34-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Steve Dowdy owns Bob's Gun Shop in Norfolk.

“I'm very vested into what happens here, [and] that everyone sees that we do it right,” Dowdy told News 3.

The store along Granby Street has served Hampton Roads for nearly 80 years, and throughout that time, has been staying on top of yearly ATF inspections. “We spend daily efforts making sure we do things right,” Dowdy said.

According to ATF officials, investigators do inspections at FFLs (Federal Firearms Licensees), people licensed to manufacture, import and deal firearms. ATF inspections are aimed at ensuring compliance with local, federal, and state laws, as well as reviewing records kept by FFLs to find people potentially associated with illegal firearm trafficking or other criminal activity.

Dowdy told News 3 their ATF inspections happen at random and typically take anywhere from a week and a half to three weeks to complete.

“They come in [and] usually the first thing that they do is a firearms inventory, make sure our numbers match up on the firearms, and that they match up to the books [and] record keeping is good there. From there, they hit the forms,” Dowdy said. “With record keeping not being done properly, it may just make it harder if ATF or local police can't trace a gun or can't get through because the records aren't right.” Meanwhile, Christian Heyne and others with Brady United Against Gun Violence are getting the word out about a new database their group released earlier this year.

“This should be resources that the government is readily making available to the public,” Heyne told News 3.

Heyne’s referring to Brady's "Gun Store Transparency Project," a collection of ATF inspection reports through public records requests.

Heyne, Vice President of Policy for Brady, told News 3 it's the largest database of ATF inspection reports available to the public.

"You see all kinds of violations," Heyne said when referring to reports in Brady's database. "We see things, everything from reporting multiple sales of firearms, not making sure that we are correlating that the person purchasing is in fact the person who's going to end up with the firearm."

"It's a sliver of the piece of the pie, and I think it highlights why we need greater investment in inspections overall," Heyne added.

Brady obtained and processed more than 55,000 pages of ATF inspection data. Because of that, more than 2,200 inspection reports are now available from across the country.

When looking at Virginia, 77 inspection reports are available.

The database’s map legend indicates end results after ATF inspections, including warning letters, warning conferences, or licenses revoked for gun shops across the Commonwealth.

The only business in the database we found that fell under a license revocation in Virginia was a store in Virginia Beach: L&L Trading Company.

According to the inspection report in Brady's database, in June 2015, an ATF investigator tried to do an inspection at L&L Trading Company, but wasn't able to because the premises was abandoned without notifying the agency.

The door to the business was locked with stickers reading "Closed.”

When looking in the window, the investigator found the store abandoned with the only remaining items being a bicycle and a bag on the floor.

The investigator tried reaching out to the CEO and manager multiple times over the phone and through email but did not get a response. News 3 tried reaching out the CEO multiple times through email, and in person, but were also unable to reach him.

Ultimately, the report stated two violations were found including willfully preventing the ATF from going inside the premises to inspect records and ensure compliance.

The ATF did confirm with News 3 L&L Trading Company is no longer in business.

For Heyne, this example presents a lot of questions. “What kind of inventory was on-premises? Where did these weapons go,” Heyne said. “If this gun store is closed down, how exactly did they offload their inventory, and what happened to those records?”

Heyne believes Brady's database argues for more transparency within the gun shop industry.

“The more of a spotlight we shine on this industry, I think the bigger impact that we can have overall,” he said.

News 3 also asked Dowdy about Brady’s argument for more transparency.

“There's nothing wrong with it [the database] being out there. I just don't know that it has any real bearing on how things are done, or if the average person out there in the world may not know a lot about gun dealers and what they have to go through,” Dowdy said. “I just don't think that's something they're really concerned about, or honestly that they really need to be concerned about.”

As for Dowdy, his store takes extra steps with inspections being top of mind. “The average dealer probably does an annual, maybe a bi-annual, inventory on firearms. We're doing monthly inventories forms.” he said. “Just the amount of time that we spend on the floor while the sale is being made, being checked by other employees, and then after that step, being checked a couple more times by other employees in the backroom. It's really time consuming but making sure everything gets done right.”

News 3 investigators also asked ATF officials how many inspections/violations does it take for an FFL to get their license revoked.

ATF officials said, absent extraordinary circumstances, the agency will issue a notice of revocation whenever it determines an FFL has willfully committed the following violations:

  • Transferring a firearm to a prohibited person
  • Failing to conduct a required background check
  • Falsifying records, such as a firearms transaction form
  • Failing to respond to a trace request
  • Refusing to permit ATF to conduct an inspection

Other willful violations that may result in the issuance of a notice of revocation include failure to:

  • Account for firearms
  • Verify and document buyer eligibility
  • Maintain records needed for successful firearms tracing
  • Report multiple sales of handguns

ATF officials added willful violations are not common. When an ATF inspection reveals that regulatory violations are the result of inadvertence or administrative mistakes, and are not recurring or threatening to public safety, the agency will work to assist the licensee in taking corrective actions to ensure those violations are not repeated and the licensee achieves full compliance.