Montgomery County Sheriff First in PA to Inspect Licenced Firearm Dealers
New Program Shown to Reduce Illegal Firearm Trafficking & Gun Homicide
May 22, 2023 – Norristown, PA — Today, Montgomery County Sheriff Shawn Kilkenny announced a historic plan – the first ever in Pennsylvania – for his office to inspect licensed firearms dealers to ensure they are complying with background checks and other existing state safety requirements regarding the sale and transfer of firearms. Research on other cities and states shows that this strategy is effective at significantly curtailing illegal gun trafficking and reducing firearm homicides.
For decades, licensed firearm dealers have applied to county Sheriffs’ offices or the City of Philadelphia Police for a permit to sell weapons. They check boxes and indicate their intent to follow the law, then return three years later to renew their permits. It is a paperwork process. Until now, Sheriffs in Pennsylvania have never utilized their authority affirmed in these permits to inspect the premises, records, and documents of licensed firearms dealers.
Most firearms dealers take seriously their legal obligations under these permits to prevent their weapons from being trafficked into the hands of people who intend to cause harm. But a small number of firearm dealers account for a disproportionate number of guns used in crimes. A 2022 report from Brady: United Against Gun Violence shows that 50% of the crime guns traced back to PA firearms dealers were sold by just 1% of dealers, and 90% were traced back to 20% of the dealers. It is in this context that Sheriff Kilkenny’s innovative new plan to inspect firearm dealers will help prevent gun crime by proactively interrupting the flow of illegal firearms before they wreak havoc on communities.
“If food inspectors never stopped at your favorite restaurant, you’re more likely to get food poisoning. The same is true with licensed firearm dealers – inspections help ensure dealers are keeping up with the due diligence required under the laws designed to keep our communities safe,” said Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA Education Fund’s Executive Director. “The few licensed firearms dealers who are fueling gun crime by supplying most of the firearms used to take lives – the Sheriff will now be able to help stop them. We applaud Sheriff Kilkenny for his leadership.”
“Gun dealers are the first line of defense in preventing the diversion of firearms to the illicit market, making their compliance with the law absolutely critical,” said Tess Fardon, Counsel at Brady. “The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives (ATF) – the sole federal agency with authority to inspect gun dealers for compliance with firearm laws – is severely under-resourced. As a result, they are unable to inspect dealers on a frequent basis, leaving some dealers operating for over a decade without a single inspection. We applaud the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office for taking a key step to ensure the county’s gun dealers are complying with laws intended to reduce gun trafficking and crime. Brady urges other state and local law enforcement agencies to follow suit, because doing so will save lives.”
While most view the ATF as primarily responsible for ensuring dealers are following the laws, the reality is they only inspected 5% of dealers nationwide in FY21. Even ATF notes “the lack of timely inspections presents an immediate and sustained risk to public safety.” This new initiative will supplement ATF’s inspection efforts.
The results of similar firearms dealer inspection programs in other communities are clear. A comprehensive study by Daniel Webster at Johns Hopkins found strong dealer regulations lowered gun trafficking by 64 percent. Another study by Douglas Wiebe found that these inspections were independently associated with significantly lower firearm homicide rates.
CeaseFirePA Education Fund encourages other Sheriffs throughout the Commonwealth and the City of Philadelphia Police to take similar action to address a major driver of gun violence in their communities.
As the Commonwealth’s leading gun violence prevention organization, CeaseFirePA Education Fund organizes communities closest to the issue, holds those in power accountable, and maximizes the strengths of every member in its broad coalition.