Friday, 1 Mar 2024

In Opposing Gun Program, Lawmaker Omitted His Store Was Subject to It

Representative Andrew Clyde has been in Congress only since 2021, but he has quickly emerged as a vocal opponent of gun control, handing out dozens of AR-15 pins to exemplify his wide-ranging push to roll back federal firearms regulation.

At a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing in April, Mr. Clyde, Republican of Georgia, grilled the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steven M. Dettelbach, about a little-known program to monitor gun dealers found selling large numbers of weapons later traced to crimes.

Mr. Clyde suggested the program, known as Demand 2, was unfair, questioned whether all crimes linked to such guns were “bona fide,” and exhibited a detailed knowledge of its inner workings — even though it applies to only a tiny percentage of gun dealers nationwide.

What Mr. Clyde did not disclose was that one of two gun stores he owns in Georgia, Clyde Armory in Athens, was placed in the monitoring program in 2020 and 2021, according to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the gun safety group Brady. A.T.F. inspectors made the designation after they found that more than 25 guns sold there had been used in crimes within three years of their purchase.

It is not clear what crimes were traced to guns sold through Mr. Clyde’s stores, or whether his businesses have been cited for violations that could be used to revoke their licenses. Restrictions on releasing information about federally licensed dealers, imposed by Republicans at the urging of the National Rifle Association, prevent the A.T.F. from publicly disclosing most information about traces.

But the agency regards a Demand 2 designation as an important indication that a seller might be a popular destination for criminals or the target of so-called straw purchasers who use surrogates to buy guns, according to current and former law enforcement officials.

The time element is critical. Guns traced to crimes within three years of their purchase are considered weapons that have a brief “time to crime,” a serious warning sign.

“The program is intended to put a small percentage of dealers, who are selling a significant number of guns with a short time-to-crime, on notice,” said Joshua Scharff, legal counsel for Brady. “It’s also an important way to more easily trace a greater number of guns that might be used in crimes.”

Dealers assigned to the program are required to file detailed annual and quarterly reports on pre-owned guns sold to them by nonlicensed dealers or through consignments.

Only 3 percent of the roughly 80,000 stores, manufacturers and pawn shops licensed by the federal government are currently enrolled in the program, according to A.T.F. statistics compiled by Brady.

Mr. Clyde’s spokeswoman did not comment on the current status of his business, and did not say why he did not disclose that he had a personal interest in the program when he criticized it publicly.

In an emailed statement, the congressman reiterated his criticism of the agency’s use of crime tracing data to single out individual sellers, known as Federal Firearms Licensees, or F.F.L.s.

“Firearm traces cause a significant administrative burden for every F.F.L., and so should rightly be reserved only for open criminal investigations,” he said. “Yet in reviewing the trace codes provided by the A.T.F., tens of thousands of traces appear to have nothing to do with an open criminal investigation.”

An A.T.F. spokeswoman declined to comment. But Mr. Dettelbach, in his exchange with Mr. Clyde at the hearing this spring, pointed out that the vast majority of crime data used by the bureau was provided by local law enforcement agencies — and that the bureau trusts their judgment in determining which crimes they consider to be serious.

A Demand 2 designation is not, in itself, an indication of bad business practices or criminality. Big gun shops and chain sporting good stores often end up selling large numbers of guns traced to crimes through the sheer volume of weapons they sell, even when they have adequate safeguards.

Mr. Clyde, a 28-year Navy veteran whose business generates about $12 million in annual revenue, has sponsored or supported nearly every effort by House Republicans to eliminate gun control measures and block the Biden administration from imposing new ones.

A few weeks after the hearing, the House Appropriations Committee, of which Mr. Clyde is a member, proposed withholding funding for the program until it substantially weakened the criteria for placing dealers in Demand 2.

He also sponsored resolution to stop the A.T.F. from enacting a regulation that requires owners of so-called stabilizing braces, which make it easier to fire semiautomatic pistols, to apply for a permit and pay a registration fee.

Mr. Clyde has also tried to block requirements that licensed firearm dealers in states bordering Mexico report multiple sales of semiautomatic rifles, attempted to scuttle tightened regulation of untraceable “ghost guns” and helped sponsor a bill to make the “AR-15-style rifle” America’s national gun.

But he is probably best known for comments he made after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, in which he suggested that some of those who stormed the building behaved respectfully, as if they were on a “normal tourist visit.”

Those comments, which Mr. Clyde said were taken out of context, drew widespread condemnation from Democrats.

But his actions that day suggested that he saw the danger. Photographs and videos show Mr. Clyde joining with lawmakers, staff members and police officers to barricade the main entrance doors of the House chamber with heavy wooden furniture as the rioters demanded to be let inside.

Glenn Thrush covers the Department of Justice. He joined The Times in 2017 after working for Politico, Newsday, Bloomberg News, The New York Daily News, The Birmingham Post-Herald and City Limits. More about Glenn Thrush

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