Follow the guns

The Baltimore Sun

In tracing the source of guns used in Baltimore crimes in 2006 and 2007, city police kept running into a usual suspect - the Valley Guns shop in Baltimore County. It didn't matter that owner Sanford Abrams' license had been revoked in 2004. A loophole in federal law allowed him to sell off his inventory as a private collector - without any regulation.

That's the kind of loophole that makes a mockery of reasonable laws aimed at keeping guns out of criminals' hands.

Mayor Sheila Dixon and other big-city mayors brought their concerns about the so-called fire sale loophole to a congressional committee yesterday. They want the loophole closed - and for sound reasons. These private sales take place without criminal background checks and other documentation required in retail purchases. A collector, especially someone who has violated gun laws, shouldn't be able to profit from that illegal activity. But strengthening gun laws is never easy. This year, state lawmakers rebuffed four Dixon proposals, including a sensible request to require gun owners to report stolen weapons.

Mayor Dixon has made illegal guns a priority. City police now seek trace information on every gun recovered - about 3,000 last year - to try and identify patterns of sales and rogue dealers. They must rely on the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to conduct the traces. And not every gun can be traced because serial numbers have been erased or defaced. But experts say a small percentage of the nation's licensed gun dealers are the problem. That's the group the ATF should focus on. In Baltimore, federal authorities revoked the license of Valley Guns owner Abrams in 2004 after finding he had violated hundreds of gun sale regulations. But he fought it - and citizens of Baltimore paid the price. Ms. Dixon said 142 guns traced to Valley Gun were among the weapons used in crimes in the city during 2006-2007.

Gun shop owners who violate the law don't deserve the right to remain in the business. The potential consequences are too great.

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