Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How Not To Buy One

Background checks are in the news. A National Instant background Check System has been imposed since 1998 to screen criminals from obtaining firearms. Beyond a doubt criminals refuse to obey the laws and will generally take the route of least resistance in order to accomplish their goal. The best example is the straw purchase.

Being in the business of selling firearms and executing background checks places me on front line of defense against a criminals making that straw purchase. It's a role I am proud to take on for a number of reasons. First, I am a law abiding citizen, an advocate of strong law enforcement and harsh punishment for law breakers. Second, I despise criminals. No way in hell would I allow a crook to ever get the best of me in any way.

Successful straw purchases happen because the criminal element is accomplished at it. They know how to appear, how to behave, what to say and what not to say. Some are able to fool the most observant and experienced dealer. Some of them will slip through the system no matter how hard the most observant and experienced retailer tries to detect them. The system isn't perfect and criminals will exploit the weaknesses. I have had a few illegal straw purchases happen in the past and was able to detect them in time.

On the other side some potential legal firearm buyers are oblivious to the rules and regulations regarding the federal background check process. Some with a clean background fail to realize how seriously regulated purchasing a firearm has become. Their words and actions make them vulnerable to rejection even before the background check itself takes place. I once wrote about it here. Below I submit two recent examples I personally experienced. Were they or weren't they? I report, you decide.

Straw 1

The day after Christmas three underage waterfowl hunters (their apparel gave it away) show up with their Dad. They were looking at the far end of the rack behind the desk where shotguns decorated with factory wetland camouflage finishes were located. These are specialized shotguns used by turkey hunters and water fowl enthusiasts.

Dad admitted to me he was not a firearms owner, never used a gun and does not hunt but was interested in buying a new shotgun for his son the avid waterfowl hunter. I asked the father for his photo I.D. Store policy is to ask each customer for I.D before they are allowed to inspect a firearm. Dad complied.

One young man asked me since the price included two barrels and three choke tubes could he examine
them all. I took a moment to explain the legal realities to all four men. Yes, a father is within his legal rights to purchase a shotgun and give it to his son. Dad was allowed to take the shotgun from my hands. I am not permitted to directly hand any firearm to an underage individual but dad could allow his son to examine it after I had manually and visually cleared the magazine and chamber to be void of ammunition before handing it over directly to Dad.

After locking the shotgun back into the display rack behind the desk I proceeded to retrieve the original container from the vault so they could examine the extra barrel and choke tubes. After a few nods between father and son Dad decided to make the purchase. Store rules are to keep all containers in the vault at all times so I left the sales area for a moment once again. When I returned the transfer went south.

Back at the desk these four men were now joined by a young twenty-ish woman who appeared from nowhere. Dad told me he wanted to make the purchase as the young woman handed me her photo I.D. She claimed she was the one to undergo the background check. No, I don't think so was my response. She insisted it was her "right" to buy the firearm. I politely explained we were being recorded and what I was witnessing was a textbook straw purchase. She was not involved in this transaction whatsoever and in fact was nowhere to be seen. When she began to create a scene Dad stepped in and told me he would undergo the background check and handed me his I.D.

As Dad stepped up to the computer terminal for the background check I began to explain the process. The young woman stood at his side claiming he knew nothing about computers so she had to help him. Wrong again. Only the individual purchasing the shotgun would undergo the background check without any assistance from her or me or anyone else. That's how I was trained. At that point I handed the I.D. back to the Dad and told them there would be no sale.

Straw 2

Last week a young thirty-ish (rural by appearance) couple were strolling my department and after a while stepped up to look at the firearms. May I help you? Yes, could we see the break-action single shot .44 rifle that includes a scope for $299 he asked? Sure. First I need to see a photo I.D. please.

After clearing the chamber and handing the rifle over to him he then handed it over to her. Is this the right one she asked? Sure, and the recoil is mild was his response. She peered through the scope and commented on how light it was. He said he wanted to buy it for her. After a short discussion she handed me her photo I.D. for the background check.

I asked who would be buying the rifle today. He claimed he was paying for it but she would be using her credit card since his was at the limit. So he will be paying for it? Yes she claimed. How I asked? He would be giving her the cash later. And she will be undergoing the background check? Yes. Then I cannot allow a transfer of this firearm to proceed after what you two have told me. He explained he would need to go out to get some cash if he were to make the purchase and to undergo the background check. I urged him to do so and told both of them the rifle would be waiting for their return. The transfer would proceed after he passed the background check. They walked out and did not return.

In question regarding the first incident is this, was the dad unable to pass the background check? I wanted to believe he was buying a shotgun for a young man to legally possess the shotgun and hunt waterfowl. There was no indication that the firearm in question is the type used in illegal violent crime. None of this is important at all. Part of my job is to recognize the appearance of a straw purchase and deny the transfer when it occurs. After what I had witnessed there was no other choice but to terminate the transfer process before proceeding to the background check phase.

The second incident was similar. In no way would I allow these two to proceed to the background check phase. It was their words and actions that queered the deal when he openly admitted to me the notion of paying cash to her later. I am legally and morally obligated to take this into consideration on each and every transfer regardless of the type of firearm or customer involved.

Something to consider. What if either group was sent on behalf of my company to test me? Most retailers employ secret shopper spies. I would have lost my job. Could they have been working undercover for the BATF to test a retailer? I would have lost my job, had to hire an attorney to represent me in court, potentially fined or worse, spend time in jail. A now out-of-business gun store not far from my home about fifteen years ago was set up in an ATF sting operation and found guilty of allowing a straw purchase to a known gang member from out of town.

What if either set of customers represented an anti-gun group funded by a zealot like Bloomberg and were running their own "investigative journalist" operation wearing hidden cameras to entrap some poor retail schmuck like me in order to make headlines and prove their point of how EASY it is for ANYONE to obtain a firearm? Not gonna happen.

While The Constitution protects your right to possess a firearm, the law does not give you the right to purchase one. Especially from me.


Dan from Madison said...

Both of those transactions smelled bad. You did the right thing. I really like these stories, very interesting.

Overload in Colorado said...

I've been reading about retailers and employee training (or lack thereof). How were you trained on the rules of firearm sales? When you swapped businesses you worked for did you receive the training again or a refresher or anything?

Gerry from Valpo said...

Most retail orientation programs include online video training with situations the employee is then asked to judge (what would you do answer A, B, C, D, etc). The paperwork and record keeping part is intense, At my last store two ATF agents stopped by before the grand opening and spoke to us regarding the 4473 form and how be aware of a potential illegal purchase.

They also paid me my hourly plus mileage to attend a large ATF seminar at a South Bend auditorium. It lasted 6 hours. Many other regional retail employees as well as FFL holders who sold firearms were in attendance, well over 100.

Any retailer who values their FFL will train their employees very well.