ATF's Coming Nightmare with Obama

As a guy people often go to to get answers about gun issues, here's my take on Obama's crying press conference on new gun control measures.  Short answer: no real effect on ordinary citizens, but a huge coming nightmare for the government and the ATF.  Other people have focused on HIPAA conflicts and other peripheral matters.  I'll focus instead on the implications of the "unlicensed dealer" issue.

People first need to understand the way collectors think and operate.  For collectors of almost anything, almost none just buy the things they collect and amass an ever larger pile until one day they decide it's time to do estate planning, and then they sell off their collection and use the money to set up trusts for their kids and grandchildren.  Instead, most collectors buy pieces they can afford and, as they save more money, will find other pieces that are even more desirable.  They often partially fund a new purchase with the sale of less valuable items in their collection.  This is true of books, toys, coins, stamps, motorcycles, cars, artwork, etc.  The difference is that you can't be charged with a felony for selling any of the above things to another collector without a federal license, but that can and does happen if you do it with guns.

I started my lifelong interest in guns at age 7 and began acquiring them that year, 1964.  By the time I graduated from high school in 1975, I had over a dozen rifles and handguns, and one shotgun.  Some were gifts from older relatives, and some were bought with money I'd saved.  I had never sold a gun, but I realized at the time that I might want to in the furtherance of my collecting.  By the early 1970s, the ATF was getting pretty heavy-handed, and so I wrote them to have them clarify what constituted "dealing" in firearms.  What was the threshold, and was it in numbers of guns per month or year, or an amount of profit in a certain period of time?

The ATF would not answer this question, except to say that "disposing of a collection" would not be considered dealing.  They said they would have to judge each case individually on its merits.  Translation: "Trust us."

And that is why I've held federal licenses for almost four decades.

The address on my license was originally my home address.  I bought guns for myself, and two or three times a year, friends might ask me to find something for them at a good price.  I would do this without charging a profit.  Occasionally I would find an estate or bankrupt business that was selling a bunch of guns, and I would advertise and profit on these deals.  These would happen less than once a year.

Then, in 1983, I became licensed to deal in NFA weapons (machine guns) and to import ammunition.  I used my ever growing experiences with these rare arms to gain a reputation in that field, and I started making regular profits in the gun business, and paying taxes on them along with that on my income from my day job as an investment broker.

In 1994, the Clintons decided to crack down on people like me, who were being gun dealers part-time and operating out of our homes.  We had to show "licensed premises" for doing business and show copies of our local business licenses.  Most part-time dealers lived in residential areas that were not zoned for commercial businesses, and so the number of licensed dealers in the country fell by about 80% during the ensuing three-year licensing cycle.  I changed my licensed premises to an address in a commercial district, as I was making money from my part-time gun business and did not want to abandon it.

Now Obama tells us that there are hundreds of thousands of "unlicensed" dealers, and they have to be licensed.  This is going to create a real problem for the ATF.  The government is now going to have to define "dealing" and put a number on it.  I have heard mention of 25 or more guns a year as a suggested threshold.  That would create a huge problem for ATF making a case against a citizen.  They'd have to have undercover agents buy at least 25 guns from a single person in 12 months to make just one case.  If the number is much smaller, it's going to have severe legal implications for the issue of ordinary people selling private property.  In either case, a lot of people are going to be even more angry with this administration, and with good reason.

John Ross is a licensed gun dealer, the designer of the 5" barrel version of the Smith & Wesson .500 revolver that bears his initials, a shooting instructor, and the author of the bestselling novel Unintended Consequences

As a guy people often go to to get answers about gun issues, here's my take on Obama's crying press conference on new gun control measures.  Short answer: no real effect on ordinary citizens, but a huge coming nightmare for the government and the ATF.  Other people have focused on HIPAA conflicts and other peripheral matters.  I'll focus instead on the implications of the "unlicensed dealer" issue.

People first need to understand the way collectors think and operate.  For collectors of almost anything, almost none just buy the things they collect and amass an ever larger pile until one day they decide it's time to do estate planning, and then they sell off their collection and use the money to set up trusts for their kids and grandchildren.  Instead, most collectors buy pieces they can afford and, as they save more money, will find other pieces that are even more desirable.  They often partially fund a new purchase with the sale of less valuable items in their collection.  This is true of books, toys, coins, stamps, motorcycles, cars, artwork, etc.  The difference is that you can't be charged with a felony for selling any of the above things to another collector without a federal license, but that can and does happen if you do it with guns.

I started my lifelong interest in guns at age 7 and began acquiring them that year, 1964.  By the time I graduated from high school in 1975, I had over a dozen rifles and handguns, and one shotgun.  Some were gifts from older relatives, and some were bought with money I'd saved.  I had never sold a gun, but I realized at the time that I might want to in the furtherance of my collecting.  By the early 1970s, the ATF was getting pretty heavy-handed, and so I wrote them to have them clarify what constituted "dealing" in firearms.  What was the threshold, and was it in numbers of guns per month or year, or an amount of profit in a certain period of time?

The ATF would not answer this question, except to say that "disposing of a collection" would not be considered dealing.  They said they would have to judge each case individually on its merits.  Translation: "Trust us."

And that is why I've held federal licenses for almost four decades.

The address on my license was originally my home address.  I bought guns for myself, and two or three times a year, friends might ask me to find something for them at a good price.  I would do this without charging a profit.  Occasionally I would find an estate or bankrupt business that was selling a bunch of guns, and I would advertise and profit on these deals.  These would happen less than once a year.

Then, in 1983, I became licensed to deal in NFA weapons (machine guns) and to import ammunition.  I used my ever growing experiences with these rare arms to gain a reputation in that field, and I started making regular profits in the gun business, and paying taxes on them along with that on my income from my day job as an investment broker.

In 1994, the Clintons decided to crack down on people like me, who were being gun dealers part-time and operating out of our homes.  We had to show "licensed premises" for doing business and show copies of our local business licenses.  Most part-time dealers lived in residential areas that were not zoned for commercial businesses, and so the number of licensed dealers in the country fell by about 80% during the ensuing three-year licensing cycle.  I changed my licensed premises to an address in a commercial district, as I was making money from my part-time gun business and did not want to abandon it.

Now Obama tells us that there are hundreds of thousands of "unlicensed" dealers, and they have to be licensed.  This is going to create a real problem for the ATF.  The government is now going to have to define "dealing" and put a number on it.  I have heard mention of 25 or more guns a year as a suggested threshold.  That would create a huge problem for ATF making a case against a citizen.  They'd have to have undercover agents buy at least 25 guns from a single person in 12 months to make just one case.  If the number is much smaller, it's going to have severe legal implications for the issue of ordinary people selling private property.  In either case, a lot of people are going to be even more angry with this administration, and with good reason.

John Ross is a licensed gun dealer, the designer of the 5" barrel version of the Smith & Wesson .500 revolver that bears his initials, a shooting instructor, and the author of the bestselling novel Unintended Consequences