By MEGAN HOLLAND
Anchorage Daily News
March 28, 2006
Sometime in the mid-1990s, though, the gun enthusiast and National Rifle Association board member turned in the license.
"It became not worth it to open your home to federal agents, be fingerprinted and spend (hundreds of dollars) for something that in effect you got for convenience' sake anyway," he said.
Ross is one of thousands of Alaskans who have surrendered gun dealer licenses over the past decade. According to a study released this month from the nonprofit Violence Policy Center, based in Washington, the number of licenses in Alaska has plummeted 73 percent in the last 10 years as Alaskans have given up buying and selling guns out of their homes because of increased regulation and licensing fees.
The decline mirrors a 78 percent reduction across the country, or 190,000 fewer gun dealers nationwide, according to the report.
"It used to be just about anybody's brother had a (federal firearms license)," said Anchorage resident Will Fowler, owner of Fowler Gun and Machine Shop. "Then they clamped down. Dealers that had a desk in their den and a telephone and called it a business had to give them up."
"They made it so you had to have a respectful business," he said.
In Alaska, the number of people with the federal government's most basic gun-dealer license - the type 1 federal firearms license, which allows the holder to buy most firearms in unlimited quantities and without waiting periods, among other benefits - dropped from 3,140 in 1994 to 845 in 2005. Today, there are 798, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The reductions are largely due to changes made in federal gun regulations in the 1990s during the Clinton administration. The Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act in 1993, among other things, required license holders to notify local police of their intent to apply for a license. Prices for three-year licenses increased from $30 to $200. And the ATF began strictly enforcing the 1968 Gun Control Act, which says license holders must be "engaged in the business." That meant those with the licenses suddenly had to take pictures of their storefronts and prove they had business hours open for customers. Photographs and fingerprints of applicants were collected.
"It just became too onerous," said Ross, who is also president of the Alaska Gun Collectors Association. "Most of the firearms dealers in Alaska didn't make a living off firearms but enhanced their own collections or helped out people in the community. It was too much."
Now those former license holders have to use other license holders if they want to buy guns over the Internet, from out-of-state sellers and even from in-state sellers that are shipping the guns in the mail.
National gun-control groups applaud the reduced number of gun dealers, saying fewer firearms are making it into the hands of criminals because there are fewer "kitchen table dealers." Fewer dealers also means the ATF can better police those who have licenses, said Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, which authored the recent study.
They also say that while there is no proof of a direct link, they believe the reduction is one element that added to the dramatic decline in crime during the past decade, said Peter Hamm, spokesman for the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
But in Alaska, where anti-gun groups are few and far between and the state has the highest per capita gun ownership in the country, the NRA, gun-store owners and even federal firearms authorities say the shrunken number of dealers hasn't reduced the sale of guns - other than fewer places to buy them. They say the stricter federal rules are targeted more toward Outside problems.
"Firearms are a huge part of Alaska culture and people are much more comfortable with firearms than elsewhere," said Brad Earman of the Anchorage office of the ATF. "What we are seeing here is not typical of the country."
Earman said that in Alaska, the guns seized in crimes, as a rule, are stolen from people's homes, not purchased from dealers.
He said "time and time again," this state's problem is guns stolen from residences and vehicles - legitimate owners not keeping their guns locked up and not recording their serial numbers for police to track them when they are stolen.
"In Alaska, we haven't been plagued with problem gun dealers," he said.
But in the highly contentious debate over guns, some national gun-control groups say differently.
Sugarmann says that despite the myth of a gun culture leading to safer gun usage, Alaska ranks No. 2 in the nation in per capita gun-related deaths and injuries. The state also rates at the top of the nation for suicides involving a firearm.
Ross, though, says: "The criminals will get the firearms no matter what we do.
"There is a word, totemism, which is attributing evil spirits to inanimate objects. Too many people opposed to guns don't realize that, in effect, they are practicing totemism. Firearms can be used and misused. When there are problems, it is with the people, not the guns."
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com
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