Former Parkville arms dealer loses appeal to recover license

Valley Gun owner repeatedly ignored regulations, U.S. court rules


October 27, 2006|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,Sun reporter

Sanford M. Abrams, the outspoken former firearms dealer in Baltimore County who was forced to surrender his license in a record-keeping dispute with federal officials, lost his court appeal yesterday.

Abrams, whose family operated Valley Gun in Parkville for more than 50 years, sued the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after the agency ruled that his shop had more than 900 violations of regulations designed to help police track guns used in crimes.

At issue before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., was whether the violations were willful. Abrams maintained the errors were innocent mistakes and just a minuscule part of his overall business.

The court disagreed, upholding the decision issued in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to throw out Abrams' lawsuit seeking his license back.

"To be sure, a single, or even a few, inadvertent errors in failing to complete forms may not amount to `willful' failures, even when the legal requirement to complete the forms was known," wrote Judge Paul V. Niemeyer on behalf of a three-judge panel deciding the case. "Yet at some point, when such errors continue or even increase in the face of repeated warnings given by enforcement officials, accompanied by explanations of the severity of the failures, one may infer as a matter of law that the licensee simply does not care about the legal requirements."

Abrams was elected in 2005 to a three-year term on the board of the National Rifle Association, a leading guns-rights lobbying group.

Yesterday, Abrams confirmed that he resigned from the board two months ago. But Abrams declined to comment on his resignation and the court decision. An NRA spokesman did not return a call for comment yesterday.

One gun-control advocacy group praised the court decision, but cautioned that proposed legislation inspired by Abrams' case could make its way into law soon.

"The NRA has coddled rogue gun dealers like Abrams for far too long," Daniel R. Vice, staff attorney for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an e-mail yesterday. "This ruling helps to prevent one of the worst gun dealers in the nation from flooding our communities with crime guns."

After he lost his license, Abrams was still allowed to sell off his store's inventory of more than 700 guns. His mother leased the storefront next to Valley Gun to a new shop that agreed to buy Abrams' remaining firearms.

The issue reached Washington this fall when the U.S. House of Representatives in September passed a bill on gun dealer regulation that supporters say would create a better system to punish minor infractions. But opponents such as the Brady Center say the legislation could gut the power of federal law enforcement officials to revoke the licenses of gun dealers.

The Senate is expected to consider H.R. 5092 this year.

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