Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Targets Gun Licensing President Is Seeking to Curb `Flourishing Criminal Market'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Targets Gun Licensing President Is Seeking to Curb `Flourishing Criminal Market'

Article excerpt

A PROPOSAL FOR a national waiting period on handgun sales will dominate debate when Congress revisits gun control this year. But a new crackdown on the licensing of federal firearms dealers will do more to stifle the nation's booming gun trade than a waiting period, experts say.

Gun-control advocates and opponents agree that President Bill Clinton's push to toughen the screening of applicants for the easily obtained $10 gun-dealer licenses - coupled with tighter scrutiny of those already holding permits - could have a significant effect on the ready availability of guns.

Currently, more than 280,000 people across the country have permits, and the vast majority of them conduct business out of their homes.

Treasury Department officials, who regulate gun sales, believe that many get permits mainly to engage in interstate gun sales, buy weapons wholesale or escape local or state gun laws, not to operate gun shops.

"We think if they do clean up the kitchen table dealers, it will have a far greater effect on gun violence in this country than the Brady bill," said Josh Sugarmann, director of the Violence Policy Center. He was referring to the popular name of the waiting period proposal.

The center, based in Washington, advocated new restrictions on the licenses, arguing that the proliferation of permits has aided criminal trafficking in weapons. Clinton appeared to agree when he singled out the licensing system in announcing his crime package.

In an executive order Wednesday directing Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen to get tougher when issuing permits, Clinton said the present system "encourages a flourishing criminal market in guns" and suggested that "a great number of these people probably should not be licensed."

"In some ways we have made it easier to get a license to sell guns than it is to get and keep a drivers license," Clinton said.

Even some gun dealers are willing to accept changes in the licensing system. But they bristle at Clinton's assertion that many dealers are engaged in illegal sales.

"That statement we take as untrue and unfounded, and I don't know of any reliable evidence anywhere that would stand up to intelligent cross-examination," said Andrew Molchan, president of the National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers. That group is based in Florida.

"Any time you have big numbers and a system that is very old and admittedly could use a little tightening, certainly you can have problems. But what we are talking about is three or four to a dozen."

Under Clinton's directive, the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is supposed to improve its background checks of license applicants, require better proof of identification such as fingerprints, make more inspections of licensed premises and step up checks of sale records. …

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