The feds searched Bull's Eye Shooter Supply in Tacoma, Washington, on Wednesday, as well as the home of its owner, Brian Borgelt. Bull's Eye once owned a Bushmaster rifle used in the recent Beltway sniper shootings, and Lee Malvo, the seventeen-year-old charged with the killings along with John Muhammad, had been seen in the shop by two employees.
Back in October, The Seattle Times reported that Borgelt told a newspaper that Muhammad had bought a Bushmaster from him, then told investigators that he thought the rifle was stolen. It would have been illegal for Borgelt's shop to sell a gun to Muhammad, who had an order of protection filed against him, or to Malvo, a minor; if the gun was stolen, a failure to report it missing within forty-eight hours would also have been a violation of the law.
But why should Brian Borgelt have given a damn about the law?
The Seattle Times reported on Saturday that since 1995 Bull's Eye has failed "three federal inspections in which investigators couldn't find scores of guns as well as forms they need to track criminals" -- but was let off with a warning each time by the ATF.
But there's nothing surprising to me in all this. Back on July 22, 1999, The New York Times published an article titled "Limits on Power and Zeal Hamper Firearms Agency." I read it then and it's made me furious ever since:
The bureau [ATF], an arm of the Treasury Department, was created with limited power, has existed under constant threat of attack by the National Rifle Association, has been kept short-staffed and has to enforce laws often written to make prosecutions difficult.
An examination of the bureau also shows a major distinction in its approach to the job. Historically, it has arrested a sizable number of criminals who use guns in robberies or drug sales, particularly career criminals with three or more convictions. These are considered safe cases that do not arouse N.R.A. opposition.
Until recently, the bureau has been less aggressive in what is now being recognized as a critical part of gun control: going after illegal gun traffickers and the small number of corrupt dealers, among the 104,855 federally licensed dealers, who supply guns to criminals and juveniles.
While half of all crime guns traced by the A.T.F. in the past two years were linked to just 389 dealers, only 42 dealers were recommended for prosecution last year, and only 19 had their licenses revoked.
''There is not a whole lot of vigor in gun enforcement,'' said Julius Wachtel, who retired last year after 23 years as a firearms agent. When it comes to investigating dealers, traffickers or gun shows, he said, the agents have a saying: ''No cases, no waves. Little cases, little waves. Big cases, big waves. All those years of being hammered by Congress have had a chilling effect.''
So when investigators found weapons missing and unaccounted for, and transaction files gone or stuffed behind the cash register, why did Borgelt have to worry?
And there's more. Court records made public Friday reveal, according to The Seattle Times, "that Bull's Eye had one or two guns stolen or routinely disappear from its tables at weekend gun shows it attended."
Oh, and Borgelt lives in a $400,000 house, but hasn't filed personal income tax returns for the past eight years.
The story of Bull's Eye should be on the front page of every newspaper in America. And the people who insist that we merely need to enforce our existing gun laws while undermining the very people who enforce those laws should hang their heads in shame.