"We are something of a toothless tiger, especially when it comes to dealing with a dealer," said a ranking bureau official. Referring to the National Rifle Association, the official said, "That's the way Congress and the N.R.A. have wanted it."
The bureau's powers were limited by a 1986 law, the Gun Owners' Protection Act, passed with N.R.A. support, that reduced record-keeping violations to a misdemeanor from a felony. As a result, federal prosecutors often show little interest in going after rogue gun dealers.
Moreover, the bureau is not permitted to suspend or fine a problem dealer. Instead, it must initiate a complex regulatory process to revoke the dealer's license, which can take years.
"The truth is," said Martha Tebbenkamp, a spokeswoman for the bureau in Seattle, "even if a dealer is indicted, he can still keep his license until he is convicted, and then he can stay in business until all his appeals are exhausted."
That's from an article in yesterday's New York Times about Bull's Eye Shooter Supply, the scofflaw gun shop from which the rifle used in the Beltway sniper shooting spree was either illegally purchased or stolen (with no apparent attempt by the shop to document the loss as the law requires).
If you've supported the ongoing efforts to undermine the enforcement of our gun laws, you have the blood of the Beltway snipers' victims on your hands. It's as simple as that.