ATF will act to close Fells Point gun shop

Store owner contested revocation of license

January 05, 2001|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

Federal authorities said yesterday they will immediately take steps to shut down a well-known Fells Point gun shop after a judge ruled that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms acted properly in revoking the store's license to sell firearms.

Baltimore Gunsmith, long targeted by police as one of the most prolific sources of guns used in area crimes, will have about 30 days to sell its inventory and close its doors, said Special Agent Mike Campbell, a spokesman for the ATF's local field office.

Store owner Larry DiMartino could appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But Campbell said, "With the [lower court's] decision, we're going to go ahead and proceed."

DiMartino had asked U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz to reverse the ATF's administrative decision last year to pull his shop's firearms license. The store, an institution since 1904 with its signature revolver-shaped sign on South Broadway, had remained open during the court challenge.

On Tuesday, Motz ruled that ATF investigators had sufficient evidence to deny the license, clearing the way for agents to order the shop closed.

DiMartino could not be reached yesterday to comment. His attorney, Benjamin Lipsitz, said only that he had not discussed an appeal with his client.

The ATF's decision to pull Baltimore Gunsmith's license was based largely on an undercover investigation that highlighted the problem of "straw purchases," in which people buy guns and turn them over to individuals prohibited from owning firearms because of past offenses.

In challenging the agency's decision in federal court, DiMartino charged that the ATF had violated his due-process rights. He also argued that the government had tricked the shop into making illegal gun sales, saying that firearms dealers couldn't be expected to have "crystal balls, mind readers or polygraph machines" on hand to discern their customers' intentions.

Federal officials praised Motz's decision yesterday, saying that it would help make Baltimore safer. U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia commended the ATF's investigation, saying, "This is a major step in the fight to keep guns out of the hands of illegal buyers."

An ATF review of guns used in Baltimore crimes during 1997 and 1998 showed that in each of those years, more than 125 guns were traced to Baltimore Gunsmith. Fewer than 75 guns used in crimes could be traced to the second-highest source, according to agency statistics.

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