Tracking Gun Dealers

A Troubling report reveals a need for more law-enforcement work to focus on a rather small universe of flagrant abusers.

A gun-control advocacy group, the nonprofit Americans for Gun Safety Foundation (AGS), used federal data to report last week that 15 percent of the guns traced to a crime in the US between 1996 and 2000 came from just 120 gun stores - out of some 83,000 gun dealers nationwide.

And half the stores are in just five states: Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, Indiana, and Georgia.

Perhaps worse, the report revealed that most gun dealers had not been federally inspected since 2000. Prosecutions of gun dealers were down 25 percent in 2002 compared with 2000.

It should not have been so difficult for AGS to obtain this information. In fact, it took six long years, using the Freedom of Information Act along with a lawsuit. A bill pending in Congress would prevent such information from becoming public. Yet Americans need to know these facts so that they can better monitor the crime-fighting effectiveness of government.

In addition to beefing up enforcement, AGS wants Congress and the US attorney general to create what it calls a "high-crime dealer watch list." Gun stores with high sales volumes, of course, sell more guns, thus increasing the possibility that some of those guns will wind up in criminal hands. But that's no reason to hide the facts on the pretext of protecting a gun dealer's privacy.

The government would be wise to especially watch the most notorious gun dealers, along with not letting down its enforcement of existing gun laws.

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