Closed store is source of guns

A Parkville gun store that was closed by federal agents in 2006 remains the biggest single source of guns used in Baltimore crimes, according to a draft of testimony that Mayor Sheila Dixon plans to give before a congressional task force in Washington today.

According to the testimony, 142 of the thousands of guns used in city crimes in the past two years were originally purchased at Valley Gun Shop. Those guns were sold before the store's owner, Sanford M. Abrams, lost his federal and state licenses to sell firearms commercially, said Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for Dixon.


But Dixon and experts on crime say it is troubling that guns sold before 2006 are still turning up in city crimes and that one dealer can have such a disproportionate impact.

The mayor is scheduled to testify today in Washington before the Congressional Task Force on Illegal Guns, a new ad hoc congressional panel, part of a broader push for national rules that would limit criminals' access to weapons.


Dixon appeared yesterday with New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others at the first national summit of the Coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

At the conference, Wal-Mart, the nation's largest firearms seller, announced that it would store video of gun purchases and create an internal log of numbers of guns that it sells that turn up at crime scenes.

The coalition, which is largely funded by Bloomberg's fortune, is also launching a television ad campaign that features all three presidential candidates voicing support for tougher background checks at gun shows. Dixon is one of three mayors to appear in the ad.

Dixon's testimony today will focus on the so-called "fire sale" loophole, a provision that allows gun dealers like Abrams to sell off their inventory after being notified by authorities that their licenses will be revoked.

"It is very clear that Valley Gun fits in line with the law we want to have in terms of closing a loophole," Dixon said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Abrams could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Norman B. King, did not return phone calls left for him. The National Rifle Association declined to comment.

Federal authorities revoked Abrams' license to sell weapons after agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that he had recorded more than 900 violations of regulations designed to help police track guns in crimes.

He then transferred the roughly 700 guns in his inventory to his personal collection and continued to sell them, according to Dixon's testimony. The privately sold guns, Dixon said, are problematic because they were not subject to federal and state reporting requirements.


"There is no way to hold him accountable for his sales," Dixon writes in her testimony.

Abrams was convicted in late January in a case in which he sold a weapon to a man who died in a shootout with Baltimore County police. The customer had a criminal record, and was therefore prohibited from owning a weapon.

Clifford, Dixon's spokesman, said the mayor is not alleging that Abrams sold weapons after January. But city officials say that the guns Abrams had previously sold are still turning up at crime scenes.

"Having that many is a massive number," said Daniel Vice, senior attorney at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "It shows just how bad this dealer was that even after this dealer was shut down guns are traced to him."

Clare Weber, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that 142 is a "significant" number of guns used in crimes to be traced back to a single store over two years. Citing federal law, she declined to say how that number compares to other area gun stores.

But in January, The Abell Report, a newsletter published by the Abell Foundation, listed the eight Maryland stores responsible for selling the most weapons that are used in city crimes.


That report used a slightly different time frame than Dixon does in her testimony, but it still lists Valley Gun as the top source, with 108 guns linked to city crimes. Next were Clyde's Sport Shop in Lansdowne, with 64 guns linked to city crimes; Northeast Gun & Pawn, with 46 guns linked to city crimes and Baltimore Gunsmith, with 40 guns linked.

Of those stores, only one, Clyde's Sport Shop, still sells weapons. The owner of that store could not be reached for comment.

Last year, 80 percent of the city's homicides were committed with guns, according to Dixon's testimony. Responding to a spike in crimes last year, she started a gun task force within the city's Police Department that targets those who are forbidden to own guns because of felony convictions.

City officials credit that and other law enforcement initiatives with a decline in nonfatal shootings and homicides this year. So far, there have been 54 homicides in the city, down from 76 at this time last year. Nonfatal shootings are also down, with 124 this year compared with 185 at this time last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.