Over two decades, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives let some notorious Midwest gun sellers off the hook for serious violations of federal law, including selling to straw purchasers, transferring guns without background checks, and doctoring sales records, reports The Trace and USA Today. The news outlets obtained ATF inspection records for 13 gun dealers the city of Chicago identified as suppliers of a disproportionate number of guns used in crimes. The records show the agency found more than 120 violations of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 at these stores. In 2017, after a record-breaking surge in homicides, then-mayor Rahm Emanuel published a Gun Trace Report, which identified the sellers of thousands of guns recovered by Chicago police between 2013 and 2016. It showed nearly one in four guns picked up by police came from just 10 stores in Illinois and northern Indiana. The top three stores accounted for 2,000 crime guns.
ATF let dealers get away with falsifying records and selling firearms without background checks. ATF routinely issued softer penalties than warranted under agency guidelines when it discovered violations at these stores. Between 2015 and 2017, ATF regularly downgraded penalties for lawbreaking retailers. A review of more than 2,000 gun dealers showed that many had brazenly flouted federal laws, selling weapons to convicted felons and domestic abusers, lying to inspectors, and falsifying ledgers to hide misconduct. When ATF discovered these violations, it often issued warnings, sometimes repeatedly, and allowed stores to stay open. In seven instances related to the stores' supplying Chicago with crime guns, ATF issued softer penalties than violations warranted. In at least three inspections, the agency discovered problems severe enough to warrant revoking a dealer’s license, but issued warnings instead. An ATF spokesperson said, “supervisors and managers make recommendations based on the totality of the inspection and in accordance with policy to ensure consistent enforcement nationwide. ATF can only revoke for willful violations of the Gun Control Act.”