What To Know Today

NEW from THE TRACE: The ATF catches thousands of lawbreaking gun dealers every year. It shuts down very few. In one of the most sweeping examinations of its inspection records yet, The Trace and USA TODAY found that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is in charge of policing the gun industry, has been largely toothless and conciliatory, bending over backward to avoid shutting down wayward dealers — and sometimes allowing guns to flow into the hands of criminals. Gun industry lobbyists have fought for decades against tougher oversight by portraying gun dealers as among the most heavily regulated businesses in the U.S. But our review of documents from nearly 2,000 gun dealer inspections between 2015 and 2017 uncovered a number of serious violations and found that dealers are largely immune from serious punishment. Some highlights:

  • The ATF’s unheeded warnings: Where the agency caught dealers breaking the law, it issued warnings, sometimes repeatedly, and allowed some stores to operate for months or years — or still to this day.
  • Background check failures: More than half of the stores with violations transferred guns without running a background check correctly, waiting for the check to finish, or accurately recording the results.
  • Dozens of false statements in official records: That includes a dealer’s violation for facilitating illegal straw purchases as well as other shops that changed records to mask unlawful conduct.
  • Selling to prohibited purchasers: More than 200 dealers were cited for selling guns to people who indicated on background check paperwork that they were prohibited from owning them, including some with felony convictions. 

Other components to the project: An interactive database of the inspection reports, a methodology memo on the data, and a reporting guide on how to investigate gun stores in your area. Questions, feedback, or tips for the team behind this project? Email us at [email protected]

David Chipman seeks to be the agency’s first permanent head since 2015. He has his work cut out for him. Of all the executive actions the president has taken on gun policy, his nomination of the agency veteran-turned-gun reform advocate could prove the most consequential. Chipman appeared Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he encountered Democratic support and particularly fierce Republican opposition, signaling the tough confirmation fight to come. Chipman would be tasked with reforming an agency hamstrung by gun lobby-backed congressional restrictions, underfunding, and increasingly lax internal policies that have weakened the ATF’s enforcement. Alain Stephens has more here.

New DOJ guidelines for violence reduction emphasize non-law enforcement solutions. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced four new principles that will guide the Department of Justices and its agencies as they tackle violent crime: 1) build trust and legitimacy in communities, 2) invest in violence prevention and intervention programs, 3) focus law enforcement efforts on the biggest drivers of gun violence, and 4) measure results based on violence reduction, not arrests or prosecutions. “In this endeavor, we will engage our communities as critical partners. And through our grantmaking, we will support programming at all stages – from the earliest violence interruption strategies to post-conviction reentry services,” Garland said.

“A horrific day for our city”: Shooting at San Jose, California, rail yard leaves nine people dead. Early Wednesday morning, a man opened fire at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority maintenance yard; several others were wounded. The shooter, who was a rail yard employee, also died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot. “This is a horrific day for our city and tragic day for the VTA family,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “Our heart pains for the families and the co-workers.” It was the 232nd mass shooting of the year and one of two yesterday, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines the incidents as four or more injured. In Chicago, four people were injured — a teen was first pronounced dead before being resuscitated — in a shooting at an apartment on the city’s South Side.

Chicago’s mayor said gun violence was linked to bail decisions. Her own staff thought otherwise. Lori Lightfoot and the city’s top police brass have frequently blamed Cook County judges for not keeping more people locked up after arrest. But some of her senior advisers have admitted that the argument is unsubstantiated, according to a WBEZ report on hacked emails from the mayor’s office.

Data Point

228,380 — the number of nonfatal shooting cases hospitals treated between 2016 and 2018, according to a new analysis of hospital records. That’s about twice the number of gun deaths during that time, they found. [Western Journal of Emergency Medicine]