May 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Drop In Gun Dealers Mostly Small Sellers Regulations, Fees Weed Out Collectors, Home Shops Atf Says

By The Spokesman-Review

Washington and Idaho lost 3,500 licensed firearms dealers in the past 30 months.

While surviving gun shop owners admit the change is good for business, not all are grateful for the plummeting competition.

The number of small firearms businesses has exploded over the past 30 years as a result of lax federal laws and weak enforcement, some said. Now, increased regulation and rising fees are squeezing out the little dealers.

“They created the monster themselves,” Dave Tachney, owner of Shooters Supply in Coeur d’Alene, said of federal regulators. “Now the basement gun shop is paying for it.”

Other gun shop owners, however, say it’s about time firearms cops started cracking down on people who get a dealer’s license just to buy cheap guns for themselves and friends.

Legitimate gun dealers often take heat for problems caused by “back door gun dealers,” said Jim Brock, owner of Brock’s Gunsmithing, in Spokane.

Mirroring a national trend, Idaho lost more than 38 percent of its federally licensed firearms dealers since the end of 1993. Washington lost 45 percent.

Nationally, the number of gun dealers has dropped from 260,703 to 168,395 - a 35 percent decline. They are expected to level off at about 100,000 in coming years.

The changes have made no measurable dent in crime or the volume of gun sales - locally or nationally.

The changes started with the Brady Bill, which increased the cost of dealer licenses from $10 to $200.

While a hefty - but hardly prohibitive - increase for legitimate gun shops, the change weeded out lots of collectors and in-home shops, said Dennis Anderson, regional spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in San Francisco.

Collectors would buy a $10 license, good for three years, in order to buy their guns at wholesale prices - typically 20 to 40 percent cheaper than retail. In-home dealers would buy guns cheap and sell them to friends.

“Now, with the cost and hassle factor, it’s not worth it anymore,” Anderson said.

A second round of changes came with the crime bill in September 1994, which required federal dealers to comply with local and state zoning laws. ATF responded by making businesses operate out of a store front and not just a home.

ATF estimates that only 20 percent of gun sellers operated out of a legal commercial business, “and that 20 percent already sells 80 to 90 percent of the guns,” Anderson said.

While rules requiring gun dealers to have a “legitimate business” had been in effect since 1968, ATF had not been enforcing them, Tachney said.

The license never was meant for home dealers and collectors, he said. They have no overhead and can sell at cheaper prices than other businesses.

“But ATF got short on funds or whatever,” he said. “They’re just going back to the original intent.”

But Tachney, who could profit from the reduction in competition, says it’s not fair.

“I see two or three guys a month in here who say they can’t get their license renewed,” he said.

Clayton Upshaw, manager of Black Sheep sporting goods in Coeur d’Alene, agreed. Guns are expensive and consumers who go to the trouble to get a legal dealer’s license shouldn’t be punished, he said. Legal dealers - even small-time ones - aren’t likely to peddle guns to criminals.

But Gary Springer, owner of Dutch’s Pawn Shop in Spokane, said changes could cut down on the ease of criminals getting guns.

“To the extent that some of those dealers weren’t obeying the law (by operating out of a store front), some probably weren’t paying taxes or following other rules,” Springer said. And historically, “criminals get guns by dealing with crooked dealers.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Disappearing gun dealers

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