Gun shop lost license, but can sell inventory

Store was cited for 900 violations of record-keeping rules


When federal officials revoked the dealer license of Valley Gun Shop in Parkville this year, owner Sanford Abrams looked to Washington.

Abrams, a board member of the National Rifle Association, won a concession from federal prosecutors that allows the sale of more than 700 guns from his store's inventory - a move that outraged critics who thought his days of selling firearms were over. The buyer is likely to be the gun shop opening next door on Harford Road, in a building owned by Abrams' 80-year-old mother.

The owner of Just Guns confirmed yesterday that he intends to buy all of Abrams' firearms and sell them on consignment after his store opens next month.

Congress is taking up the issue as well. Weeks after Valley Gun lost a bid in federal court in Baltimore to restore its license, a lawmaker introduced a bill on gun dealer regulation that supporters say would create a better system to punish minor infractions.

But opponents say the legislation could gut the power of federal law enforcement officials to revoke the licenses of gun dealers.

Gun control advocates say the fallout from the Abrams case is a stark and troubling illustration of how hard it is for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to wrest a firearms license from a large-scale gun dealer.

The license revocation in the Abrams case was based on more than 900 violations of record-keeping regulations designed to help police track guns used in crimes, according to the ATF.

The Americans for Gun Safety foundation ranked Abrams 37th out of 80,000 dealers for the sale of firearms between 1996 and 2000 that were later used in crimes. An analysis of ATF data by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence found that Valley Gun sold 14 firearms from 1993 to 1997 that were later used in homicides.

"Clearly, the NRA is trying to protect him," said Daniel R. Vice, a staff attorney for the Brady Center and the author of a new investigative report about Abrams. "And by protecting him, they are protecting the worst of the worst of rogue gun dealers."

Abrams, an outspoken advocate of gun rights, dismissed those concerns yesterday, saying that he has never committed a crime and has been unfairly targeted by overzealous federal agents. He said his days as a gun dealer are over.

"They said I broke the regulations," Abrams said. "But it's a dead issue. They took the license. Nothing has happened since."

Abrams said that as a private citizen, he will sell his firearms to Just Guns owner James D. Morganthall Jr., who also owns OC Outdoors in Dundalk.

"What does she want me to do?" Abrams asked of Sarah Brady, wife of Reagan press secretary James Brady, who was wounded in 1981 during an assassination attempt and for whom the Brady Center is named. "Bury them with me in my coffin?"

Abrams said that as an agent for his mother, he signed a lease with Morganthall. Abrams included a no-compete clause, agreeing not to sell firearms from Valley Gun. ATF officials said Morganthall has no record-keeping violations.

Any suspicions that Just Guns would be a front for him are ridiculous, Abrams said. "I have nothing to do with [Morganthall's] business," Abrams said.

In 2000, Abrams' store was one of 41 licensed firearm dealers - out of 80,000 nationwide - ordered by the ATF to provide detailed reports on all gun purchases and sales for the previous three years, and to continue providing such reports monthly. The idea, bureau officials said, was to prod "uncooperative" gun shops into compliance.

Abrams saw it as an improper power play and sued the federal bureau.

"You think they love me for that?" Abrams said yesterday.

The investigation that led to the license revocation started shortly afterward when, the ATF said, it found problems in Abrams' bookkeeping. In July 1997, agents compared the number of firearms listed in the store's books with the number on the premises. The store came up 45 guns short, according to agents.

After more missing guns were identified after a 1999 inspection, the bureau held a "warning conference" with Abrams, who promised to improve record-keeping. Agents returned in 2001 and noted that there were 133 fewer firearms than were listed in the store's inventory. They held another warning conference. Abrams again pledged to make progress. Finally, in May 2003, an audit of Abrams' books found 472 guns unaccounted for.

The ATF issued a notice of license revocation in May 2004. In October, an administrative hearing officer ruled that Abrams' violations were "willful."

A final notice to take the license was issued in February 2005 but was stayed pending the court case.

Abrams acknowledges that his 2,000-square-foot shop on Harford Road might have had problems in the past. His six employees have had to fill out up to nine forms for a single customer who wanted to buy more than one gun at a time, Abrams said.

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