Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Acting Deputy Director Regina Lombardo on August 9 seeking documents about gun dealers that sell large numbers of guns that are used in crimes, including homicides, dating back to January 1, 2014.
“Our country suffered two unspeakable tragedies that took the lives of 31 people in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. These shootings are the latest in a national gun violence crisis that has grown over the past two decades,” Cummings wrote. “Gun violence has caused communities across the country to suffer from the tragic loss of lives as well as the erosion of security in our public spaces, places of worship, offices, and our children’s schools. This cannot be allowed to continue unchecked.”
Many of the guns used in homicides and other violent crimes are sold by a small number of gun dealers. In 2000, a study by ATF found that just one percent of gun dealers were responsible for nearly 60% of guns recovered at crime scenes—and slightly more than five percent of gun dealers were responsible for selling nearly 90% of those guns.
Many guns involved in crimes are sold by federal firearms licensees (FLLs) to straw purchasers or unlicensed sellers who then transfer those guns to people who commit violent crimes. In 2018, there were 135,314 FFLs in the United States, but ATF conducted firearm compliance inspections for only 10,323 or 7.6%. Even this limited set of inspections identified thousands of potentially serious violations, including failure to properly document a purchaser’s identification, failure to report multiple handgun sales, and failure to contact the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and wait the mandatory time prior to sale. However, less than one percent of these inspections led to meaningful enforcement actions. In 2018, only 83 inspections led to recommendations that licenses be surrendered, revoked, or denied.
“The Committee is gravely concerned that current law enforcement efforts are not adequately addressing this crisis,”
Cummings wrote. “The Committee is seeking to better understand enforcement efforts with respect to [federal firearms licensees] that sell large numbers of guns that are used in crimes, including homicides. This investigation will inform Congress’s ability to make changes in federal law that save lives.”