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Administration plans assault on licensed firearms dealers.

The federal government is ready to furnish your city with a list of the federally licensed firearms dealers who give an address in your community and to help localities determine if those dealers are conforming to state and local laws.

Additionally, the administration two weeks ago announced legislative proposals seeking changes in existing federal firearms dealer laws designed to reduce the number of firearms dealers nationally, so that those remaining can be monitored more effectively. The Clinton Administration further pledged to seek changes in federal law so that federal authorities are not forced to issue firearms dealer licenses that they know violate state and local laws, as they feel they are now required to do.

What Your City Can Do Now

There are at least two ways to obtain a list of the federally licensed firearms dealers in your community.

1. Look up the nearest of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) office in your local phone book and make an official request of them to furnish such a list.

2. Contact your state Attorney General's office. The Federal Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has made a list of all licensees in the state available to each state Attorney General's office.

What Might Turn Up

The City of Berkeley, Calif. obtained such a list in January 1993 and discovered that there were 34 federally licensed gun dealers in the city, with most operating out of their homes in residential neighborhoods. None of the dealers in residential areas had zoning permits or business licenses. During this process it was discovered that one dealer had a permit to manufacture ammunition in an apartment building.

While unlicensed and illegal sales of firearms remain a huge problem the existing system of federal firearms dealer licensing also has loopholes that may lead city officials to launch local enforcement efforts using municipal zoning and business licensing as tools as the city checks the list of federally licensed dealers for compliance with local and state laws.

Changes Supported by Clinton Administration

There are currently 284,000 federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States. To enforce current laws requiring the maintenance of sales records by these dealers the BATF has only 240 inspectors. The department is proposing that the annual license fee be increased to a level of $600, which the department indicates matches the cost of license issuance. Until three months ago when the Brady Bill took effect annual license fees were $10 per year, with a three year license fee set at $200. Increased license fee levels combined with increased pre-issuance investigations would reduce the number of licensees by about 80 percent, down to a level of about 57,000. In 1992, 90 percent of license applicants received federal licenses with no background check.

As an example of what a more aggressive pre-licensing process can produce, department officials cited a program in New York City. Applicants were informed of their responsibilities under law as dealers. As a result of this program 94 percent of the 227 applicants withdrew their applications and three of the remaining applicants were denied.

The administration also announced their support for provisions in the Senate Crime Bill (S 1607), which would require that: all applicants certify compliance with all state and local laws; the applicant notify the chief law enforcement officer in the jurisdiction of the intent to conduct a firearms business; BATF inform local jurisdictions of all licenses issued and that licensees comply with all local business ordinances.

In a January 6 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Enforcement, Ronald K. Noble was quoted as saying "We shouldn't issue another federal firearms license until we're sure that the person who is going to get that license is someone we can trust and someone who is going to be engaged in the business." Currently the Treasury Department believes that hundreds of thousands of the existing licensed dealers obtain a license only for the purpose of obtaining weapons for personal use at wholesale prices and contemplate making no regular sales.

In the same interview Noble commented on the reluctance of BATF officials in the past to deny licenses to applicants even if they happened to know the licensee planned to operate in an area where local ordinances prohibited such a weapons business. "Why can't we say no? By saying yes aren't we an accomplice to a crime? So why don't we just say no, and then if they take us to court, let them take us to court."

Last March, former BATF Director Stephen E. Higgins in testimony before a Senate Subcommittee said, "under current law, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) must issue licenses even in situations where we may have every reason to believe that the business will be operated in violation of state and local law."
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Author:Peterson, Doug
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 17, 1994
Words:811
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