ATF Finally Puts Shop out of Gun Business 8 Years after Inspectors Found 2,396 Guns had Gone Missing

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
(photo: Mark Harrison, Seattle Times/AP)

It took the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) eight years to revoke a store’s license to sell firearms after agents discovered thousands of firearms had vanished from it without a trace.


Kesselring Gun Shop, which operated for 65 years outside of Seattle, Washington, had one of the largest inventories of guns and ammunition on the West Coast and consistently did more than $10 million in business annually. ATF realized there was something wrong with the business in 2005, when agents conducted an audit and reported 2,396 guns, including assault rifles and handguns, were unaccounted for. But the federal agency took no action at that time to revoke Kesserling’s license.


Instead, the mammoth gun-selling operation continued its business as usual, which included selling guns to individuals who failed background checks, or clerks not confirming the identities of buyers. The store also was faulted for not securing caches of explosive powder and not reporting missing guns to police.


Furthermore, agents suspected that Kesserling was involved in gun trafficking, as it sold 10 or more guns a year in two different years that wound up being used in crimes within three years of their sale.


On the guns that were not able to be tracked, the lack of information made it difficult for law enforcement officials to trace firearms used in crimes.


In 2010, ATF contacted the store’s owners to discuss the violations found in 2005. But no action was taken against it, and for another three years, more background-check and record-keeping violations occurred at Kesserling.It wasn’t until October 2013 that Kesserling lost its federal firearms license. Why did it take so long to close down a repeat violator?


Some blame it on Congress’ unwillingness to properly fund ATF. Cutbacks have resulted in ATF trimming its staff over the years, leaving the Seattle division, for example, with only 27 inspectors to cover 4,006 licensed gun dealers operating in five states and Guam in 2012.


“ATF is regulating the industry with one arm tied behind its back and the other one hampered as well,” James Zammillo, a former ATF deputy assistant director, told the Seattle Times. “Gun laws are weak. I don’t expect it to change in my lifetime.”


Kesserling might have lost its license to sell firearms, but the store is still in business, selling ammunition and gun accessories.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Skagit County Gun Shop May Have Been Worst in U.S. (by Mike Carter, Seattle Times)

Drug Cartels Love Houston Gun Shops (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Gun Store in Maryland Linked to 2,500 Weapons Used by Criminals (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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