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Industry News: September 1999

By Robert M. Hausman

Licensed Dealers Continue To Drop ATF Tells Industry Gathering

The latest statistics on the state of the industry were provided during a briefing by Walfred A. Nelson, deputy assistant director, firearms, explosives and arson, at the gun industry’s regulator, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) during the American Shooting Sports Council’s (ASSC) seventh annual “Industry Summit” (formerly called the “Washington, D.C. Fly-In”).

The total number of Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders nation-wide has continued its decline after a Clinton Administration directive intended to reduce the number of FFL-holders went into effect several years ago. Currently, there are a total of 104,000 licensees, one year ago there were 106,400. The number of dealers has dropped to 73,200. One year ago there were 77,000 licensed dealers.

The number of pawnbrokers licensed to deal in firearms has remained steady over the past year at about 10,000. The only category that has seen a rise in license holders were collectors of curios and relics which rose from 14,300 a year ago, to 16,600 at present.

Interest in obtaining an FFL continues to remain strong as ATF processes 550 new license applications per month. Additionally, about 2,300 renewal applications are processed each month by ATF from those seeking to retain their licenses.

Overall sales of guns and ammunition are strong, as Nelson said excise tax revenues are rising. For the six month period of October through March 1998, $77 million was collected in federal excise taxes on firearms and ammunition. During the same period in 1999, $84 million was collected in such excise taxes.

ATF has found some retailers are not following the established procedures for firearms transfers conducted under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Nelson warned. ATF inspectors have discovered instances of retailers destroying the 4473 firearms transaction record form for prospective customers who have been denied firearms purchasers by the NICS-constituting a violation of federal law. Other dealers have been destroying the 4473 forms of those customers whose purchases were delayed by the NICS and who never returned to the store to later pick up the gun. The destruction of such records is also prohibited.

Finally, Nelson noted some dealers, bowing to customer pressure, are running background checks before the customer files out the 4473 form, apparently to see if the purchase will be approved. This practice is also expressly prohibited.

In response to a question on the small number of federal prosecutions for Brady Law violations, Nelson said President Clinton recently issued a directive to ATF to make prosecutions of firearms laws violations involving violence a priority. ATF has met for years with US Attorneys to talk about their prosecution priorities, Nelson added.

On a final note, Nelson mentioned Colorado has changed from being a state
point-of-contact for firearms buyer background checks to giving over responsibility for the checks to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). South Carolina will likely make a similar move, he predicted.

Congressional Briefings

Held in early May, the well-attended meeting this year followed its usual format of briefings by political figures, notable social commentators, and personal visits to the offices of members of Congress to express the industry’s point-of- view.

Other than additional regulation of gun shows (which many licensed dealers would welcome anyway due to what the perceive as ‘unfair competition’ from unlicensed individuals selling firearms at the shows), no other major national gun control proposals are expected to win passage during the present term of Congress, prominent elected officials predicted during industry briefings.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), who was presented with ASSC’s highest honor, the Connecticut Valley Firearms Freedom Award, urged the ASSC membership not to “succumb to the idea that government can do more for you, than you can do for yourself.”

Burns went on to relate that in response to a question from a newspaper reporter recently inquiring why he (Burns) was so “wrapped up” in preserving the Second Amendment, Burns replied, “It is because we are so ‘wrapped up’ in preserving the First Amendment. History teaches us that the nature of man never changes, and firearms have kept us free for eons.”

Burns encouraged pro-gun activists to keep up the fight, saying, “Just because the other side may have scored” (author’s note, a reference to the media driven call for more gun control after the Littleton, CO incident), “it is not time to leave the playing field. Organize, and get your side of the story out,” Burns urged.

A visit to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC was also recommended by Burns. “After visiting this awesome monument, you will realize there is something at stake that is larger than ourselves. It is the basic freedom of America,” Burns concluded.

Rep. Slade Gorton (R-WA). a leader in tort and product liability reform legislation said the odds are against passage of a comprehensive tort and product liability reform bill in the current Congress. “In 1995, a comprehensive reform bill was passed in Congress but it was vetoed by President Clinton. In 1998, a filibuster ended a more modest reform proposal. We are hopeful for the passage of a modest tort and liability reform bill in the year 2001 when we have a new President and a new Congress,” Gorton disclosed.

Author’s note, President Clinton and most Democratic members of Congress are against tort and product liability reform legislation as trial lawyers, the ones who profit from America’s current liberal product liability and tort rules, are against reform. Trial lawyers are very major financial contributors to the Democratic party, so Clinton and his cohorts in Congress do not want to lose this mega funding source.

Finally, Gorton predicted no “major” gun control laws would be passed by the present Congress, although he believes there will be some “peripheral” federal laws enacted.

Gorton was presented with ASSC’s Congressional Leader of the Year Award for his efforts at attempting to get product liability reform legislation passed from which the gun industry would benefit.

Rep. John N. Hostettler (R-IN), said the true intent of the recent wave of lawsuits by municipalities against the gun industry is to make firearms unaffordable to the average citizen. “The courts are increasingly being used for the redistribution of wealth and to impose the will of the power-grabbing elite on the whole body of the people. And if the underlying rule of law is stripped away, government will have to rely on force to impose its will.”

Author’s note: It was Noah Webster who said, “America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword, because the whole body of people are armed.”

Hostettler detailed H.R. 1577, a bill he is sponsoring that would establish uniform legal liability principles for product manufacturers, called the “Interstate Commerce Freedom Act.” Intended as a response to the suits against the gun industry by municipalities, the Act, if enacted, would pre-empt the laws of any state that are not consistent with the provisions of the Act.

The measure would specifically rule out any civil liability of a manufacturer in any state or federal court for harm resulting from a criminal or intentionally tortious act of a person other than the manufacturer. In addition, in any state or federal civil action alleging liability of a manufacturer for harm resulting from the sale or marketing of the manufacturer’s products, the maker would not be liable unless the company failed to comply with a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product and it was proven such failure was directly related to the caused harm.

The bill has been referred to the Committees’ on the Judiciary and Commerce for consideration.

Social Commentary

H. Sterling Burnett, senior policy analyst, National Center for Policy Analysis, pointed out fewer than 1% of the up to 240 million guns owned by Americans are used in crime. “If, during your meetings with Congress, a member says waiting periods save lives, turn the argument around by saying if one life is lost due to the prevention of immediate access to a firearm by a crime victim, they are not worth it. Promote the idea that waiting periods costs lives,” Burnett said.

Moving on, Burnett stressed that in contrast to tobacco, firearms ownership produces tangible social benefits. “More crimes are prevented by guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens each year than are committed with guns and the savings to cities from these defensive gun uses dwarf the cost to municipalities of gun violence.

“Although fewer than one half-million violent crimes reported to police in 1996 involved firearms, more than 15 studies have shown that citizens use guns in self-defense between 764,000 and 3.6 million times annually-often doing nothing more than displaying the gun,’ Burnett pointed out.

“About 3,000 criminals are lawfully killed each year by armed civilians-about three times the number killed by police,” Burnett continued. “Another 9,000 to 17,000 criminals are wounded by civilians each year. According to the US Department of Justice, only one-fifth of the victims who defended themselves with firearms suffered injury, compared to almost half of those who defended themselves with weapons other than firearms, or who had no weapon.”

Not only do guns protect potential victims of crime, Burnett pointed out, “they also save society money. Even using the statistics most favorable to proponents of the gun lawsuits, the benefits to society of defensive gun use are greater than the costs of firearms crimes by at least $90.7 million and perhaps as much as $3.5 billion annually, research has shown.

“The lawsuits against gun manufacturers are not just bad public policy, they are also dubious as matter of law,” Burnett opined. “The courts have recognized firearms are no different from many other potentially dangerous products and have consistently held that legislatures should decide whether guns should be legal and widely available. The suits also seek to reverse the well-established tort law principle that manufacturers are not responsible for the criminal misuse of their products.”

ASSC was formed in 1989 with the realization by the firearms industry that America’s gun debate was going on without them. Traditional voices in favor of firearms ownership and the shooting sports came from groups representing owners and consumers. But the unique perspectives of those in the business of the gun industry were not being heard. Thus, ASSC was formed to represent the industry’s views on a range of issues on the political, legislative and regulatory arenas.

The organization’s initial executive director was Emanuel Kapelsohn, a firearms trainer. He was replaced two years later by Richard J. Feldman, an attorney with a broad background in working on firearms issues for the National Rifle Association (NRA). Feldman recently resigned and was replaced by Robert Ricker, an attorney and lobbyist with a broad range of experience with the NRA and elsewhere.

ASSC has relocated its headquarters from Atlanta, GA to its present office at 101 ‘D’ St., SE, Washington, DC 20003 (telephone 202-544-1610, FAX 202-543-5865).

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