Doug Stockman always has had a passion for firearms, so 20 years ago he made a business out of it.
Today, his shop, SSG Tactical, is one of the largest gun dealers in Virginia, with 10 employees, training classes and concealed-carry fashion bags.
Mr. Stockman and co-owner Kurt Sebastian are part of an industry that adds $31.8 billion to the U.S. economy — roughly equivalent to Nigeria’s national budget.
But Mr. Stockman and others in the industry worry that heightened federal scrutiny and government regulations will put them out of business.
Last year, when an inspector from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives dropped by SSG Tactical’s Fredericksburg shop for an unannounced audit, Mr. Stockman thought he was prepared.
Each of the roughly 7,500 guns his business sold that year required a Form 4473, the federal document that the purchaser and seller must complete, in addition to a background check.
The Form 4473 asks questions such as where the purchaser lives and whether the person has ever committed a crime.
Leaving one of the 132 items on the six-page questionnaire blank, or filling it in incorrectly, is an ATF violation. One violation can lead to a license revocation, which would put Mr. Stockman out of business.
Out of SSG Tactical’s 7,500 guns sold, the company could have made as many as 990,000 mistakes from the Form 4473 alone.
Turns out, Mr. Stockman’s team made about 180 errors — a 99.98 percent accuracy rate.
The majority of the violations were on the 4473 and included incorrect information on ethnicity, wrong dates and leaving a box empty when the city and county go by the same name, Mr. Stockman said.
“These mistakes were anything but willful — they were simply human error,” he said. “Now, if anything more turns up, in any future audit, we could lose our license — our business.”
Federal law obligates licensed firearm dealers to record all transactions so guns connected to crimes can be traced. In addition to 100 percent compliance on the Form 4473, dealers must log all “acquisitions and dispositions” by manufacturer, purchaser, model, serial number and caliber, and the date the dealer bought and sold each gun.
All paperwork needs to be kept for 20 years and be made available for inspection. Mr. Stockman’s audit took about seven months to complete and required him to make one of his full-time employees available to help ATF’s compliance officer sift through the shop’s records.
“The government is making it virtually impossible to grow a business,” said Mr. Stockman. “The amount of oversight and regulations has only grown over the years and in this administration.”
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