INTERVIEW: Sandy Abrams
Sandy Abrams has come to personify the struggle in the U.S. between law enforcement and the gun business. Guns sold at his shop, Valley Gun, outside Baltimore, Maryland, have been traced to at least eleven homicides, 41 assaults, 49 drug crimes and 101 cases of illegal conceal and carry.
The Brady Report
The Brady Center's investigative report called Death Valley: Profile of a Rogue Gun Dealer (.pdf file) reports that Abrams was one of the top suppliers of crime guns in the U.S. The ATF traced hundreds of crime guns to his shop Valley Gun, ranking him 37 out of nearly 80,000 licenced gun dealers in the U.S.
According to the Brady report, Abrams operated Valley Gun starting in 1996. By 2003, the ATF had cited his shop for over 900 violations of federal law. He was cited for an illegal sale and unaccounted for inventory. The Justice Department has called Abrams "a serial violator of federal gun laws", and has "endangered the public by failing to account for hundreds of weapons."
It took the ATF ten years to have Abrams’ licence revoked. But, Abrams fought back. Elected three times to the National Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association, Abrams has powerful friends. NRA lawyers sued the government to restore his gun shop licence. He lost, but he didn't give up. He transferred his gun inventory to his personal collection so he could keep selling guns.
Interview with Sandy Abrams
Former National Rifle Association board member and gun shop owner, Sandy Abrams.
The fifth estate interviewed Abrams at his shop where he now sells gun accessories. He says that the 900 violations are based on a misunderstanding.
SANDY ABRAMS: Bookkeeping , not crossing I’s, dotting T’s, dotting I’s, crossing T’s, not putting down the county the person lived in. Putting down the wrong county the person lived in even though you don’t know what county they lived in. They put down a county and it’s not the right thing. How am I supposed to know? He lived there, I don’t. I mean, would you know where any given street was in any particular place? No so the - that was the problem with the situation is that; that there are so many possibilities for error. In Maryland to buy two handguns at the same time, there are eight forms, 257 entries in 8 forms. It’s impossible not to make mistakes and with the ATF you make the same mistake twice it’s willful. And if it’s willful you lose your licence.
BOB MCKEOWN: Among the guns traced back to your store, guns used in 11 murders, 41 assualts in 46 drug cases. Over 100 cases of illegally carrying concealed weapons. Do you feel any responsibility for those guns?
SANDY ABRAMS: That doesn’t mean that the dealer does anything illegal or anything wrong. If the gun is stolen from the from the legal owner and then goes through the chain of, you know, black market and so forth, how is the dealer, what can the dealer do? And any dealer can run a background check on the person, require photo ID and so forth. Now at one point does the dealer’s responsibility end? In other words, they can’t tell what’s in a person’s heart. They can only they can only have the police check their backgrounds. It’s the police’s decision. No deal can say to a person I won’t sell this gun because I think you’re a criminal. It’s an instantaneous liability lawsuit, instant. Yes, dealers have responsibility to do as much as they can to make sure that sales don’t go to bad people.
BOB MCKEOWN: But if you're in the .05 percentile, the top 37 of 80,000 licensed gun dealers does it not tell you you're doing something that could be changed.
SANDY ABRAMS: Nobody’s yet to explain to me how.
BOB MCKEOWN: Is that just bad luck, is it coincidence?
SANDY ABRAMS: No, it’s the location it’s the volume, it’s how many guns you sell, what your location your store is in, again urban as opposed to suburban or rural.