Between 2015 and 2018, 176 North Carolina gun stores received violations from federal investigators.
The 768 violations range from clerical errors to the illegal sales of firearms to a prohibited purchaser, according to gun store inspection reports released by Brady: United Against Gun Violence — a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives heads these inspections to ensure all businesses that sell firearms comply with the law.
This prevents guns from being distributed to prohibited individuals such as felons, controlled substance users and those with mental illness.
Accomplishing this goal as an agency improves public safety, said Corey Ray, public information officer for the ATF Charlotte Field Division.
For gun stores that violate the required standard, the ATF assesses the severity of the infraction to determine if a warning or clarification of regulations should be provided via a warning conference. The ATF can revoke its license if the violation willfully disregards legal obligations.
The top violations are centered around the ATF Form 4473, a firearm transaction record form.
A failure to complete the 4473, maintain the proper acquisition records and complete the form as asked by the ATF can cause issues with the investigation process of tracking down a shooter, according to information by the ATF.
“It's just one form, but that particular piece of paper is the only documentation that shows that a firearm has been transferred–has been purchased,” Ray said.
Davis Public Safety, a police supply store in Burlington, North Carolina, is one of these stores that have received 4473-related violations.
In 2018, the gun store received seven violations, including failure to ensure all information was recorded on the ATF Form 4473 such as customer identification information and the serial number of the firearm transferred.
When law enforcement is trying to track a stolen or recovered firearm, an investigation is primarily driven by the serial number, so incomplete information on the 4473 is problematic, Mebane Chief of Police Terrence Caldwell said.
The ATF inspection officer provided training to the store on correctly completing the form and issued a warning letter. Darron Davis, owner and operator of Davis Public Safety, said the violations were attributed to clerical errors.
"I wasn't happy, but I understand they have a job to do," Davis said. "And we were wrong, and they were right and we corrected that."
The store now has three individuals check over the 4473 forms to make sure all of the fields are filled out thoroughly and accurately, Davis said.
Ray said the violations Davis Public Safety received are characteristic of clerical errors and resolvable unless they become ongoing issues. Although the store received seven ATF violations, he said there is no limit on how many violations can occur until a store’s license is revoked.
Violations that occur during the sale of firearms create the potential for those who shouldn’t have possession of a gun to more easily have access, N.C. Rep. Renée Price (D-Caswell, Orange) said. This makes it essential for gun store owners to follow the law and take responsibility, she said.
Becky Ceartas is the executive director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence. She said the organization is against easy access to guns by people who shouldn’t have them, and individual sellers, along with gun stores, should obey the law.
“If gun stores are repeatedly having ATF violations, that means guns are probably getting into the hands of people who should not have them,” she said.
Ceartas said in addition to its frequency, analyzing the type of violations present and whether the gun stores with violations have their guns traced to crimes should determine if a business should face consequences.
If mistakes that the ATF deems as dangerous to the public are being made, stiffer penalties should be sought out, such as conducting a warning conference or revoking the license, Ray said.
However, this is not always the reality.
Between 2015 and 2017, 14 gun stores received violations relating to transferring a firearm to a person identified as a prohibited purchaser. Only three of them received a warning conference.
The lack of stringent ATF action toward gun stores might be attributed to the "Charleston loophole" with background checks.
This loophole occurs when the system is unable to make an immediate determination as to whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy a gun. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has three business days to continue investigating, but if they have not concluded the investigation after three days, the gun seller can proceed with the sale.
Ray said after three days, the dealer can sell firearms to a felon while their background check is pending. However, the ATF can rectify this by recalling the gun once information about the person surfaces, he said.
Davis said he founded Davis Public Safety in 2011 when he realized that during his 27 years in law enforcement, there was a need for police equipment in western North Carolina.
The store provides mainly clothing, boots and uniform accessories for law enforcement, but it is open to the public and has evolved into a firearm store, he said.
Local law enforcement agencies in Alamance, Orange, Guilford and Caswell Counties all receive supplies from Davis’s public safety store, he said.
Police departments that purchase items from stores that have violations contribute to the problem, Price said.
“So you’re either part of the problem, or you're part of the solution," Price said.
The Mebane Police Department purchases uniform and equipment supplies from Davis Public Safety, Caldwell said. The police department receives its firearms from a different vendor, he said.
He said he was previously unaware of any violations Davis Public Safety has received regarding firearms dealing.
The ATF should notify law enforcement agencies of how many violations a gun store has received, Caldwell said. This would help inform the agency’s decision of whether or not to commit to a transactional relationship with that gun store.
"I would say it certainly raises the question mark twofold,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said he plans to discuss with his command staff and Davis Public Safety to learn about the extent of their violations to decide whether the Mebane Police Department continues to do business with them or look at alternatives.
@DTHCityState | email@example.com
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.