Fedex had just dropped off a bunch of stuff for transfer and to go into the book. As I was waiting for customers to pick up their stuff, a local attorney walked in my door asking for some help.
I’ve never been arrested and the last time I was in court was a small claims matter with a landlord not giving me a security deposit back, but I was happy to listen. What I discovered was a learning experience that everyone should think about.
The attorney, Beth, is a semi-regular customer of mine. She handles civil matters like personal injury and she got a referral from her old firm about a firearm issue. With her husband, she loves shooting with suppressors out on her farm. I’ve sold her plenty of firearm for anniversary and Christmas gifts. She’s not quite Annie Oakley but more than familiar enough with firearms and how most of this stuff works.
Her client had a problem with a gun, but it wasn’t a mechanical problem. It was a legal one. The client had purchased a gun and a silencer from a dealer about an hour away from me. The client got an ATF approval on his Form 4 about four months ago.
The problem is the dealer had vanished into thin air. Nobody knew where he went, and nobody knew where the silencer went. The store is empty and vacant and no one has any idea what happened.
Before you all state the obvious and tell the client to call the ATF…he tried that. The ATF’s response was that this is a civil matter and that he should try (and I wish I was making this up) hiring a lawyer and suing the dealer.
I looked over some business cards and miscellaneous paperwork Beth had. In addition to the dealer not having a working phone, a place of business or even paying the state their annual fees to keep his corporation active – the client had filed a complaint with the better business bureau and gotten nowhere.
His last recourse was to hire an attorney. But she wasn’t sure what to tell him.
Not being from that area, I didn’t know the dealer personally or anything about the situation so I called the local ATF office and asked around to see if anyone knew anything and left the speakerphone on so Beth could hear the conversation. We found out that despite vanishing into thin air and leaving behind a long list of questions – the ATF was under the impression that he was still in the same space and was running his business as normal.
Some time on Google and a few firearm forums dug up threads that basically echoed the “Where did this guy go?” problem that Beth’s client was having.
All of this doesn’t add up to anything very good. I grabbed a legal pad.
The merchandise and the dealer are somewhere, but not here.
ATF approved a Form 4 and there’s no telling where that item is or where the custodian of said item is.
ATF has suggested to the client that he sue the dealer.
The dealer’s phone is disconnected, the store is empty and there’s no forwarding address, The business’s Facebook page is blank and people all on the firearm forums are all asking the same questions with no answers.
We’re gonna need another legal pad.
Nothing here suggests to me that there’s a clear course of action or a simple solution. The regulation book that we’re given as licensees doesn’t have a section on this, nor does a law school education help.
I asked Beth how much her client had spent with the dealer. She didn’t know. For the sake of analysis I said let’s just say he spent $2,000 on a gun and silencer with the dealer that has now vanished.
Functionally, this case is the textbook scenario of paying a roofer $2,000 to fix your roof – you give him $2,000 and then he never comes back. None of those cases end well, smoothly or easily. And that’s even when the roofing contractor is licensed and bonded.
I asked Beth what she charges to sue someone, flat rate or hourly. She said her firm bills her out at $450 an hour in litigation and that filing a lawsuit on something like this would cost easily cost $5,000-8,000 without any guarantee of success. And that’s assuming she’s able to find the dealer and serve him with a summons properly.
Even if her client pays to have the dealer sued, or if the client takes him to court in small claims by himself, that still requires locating him, which could cost some money by hiring a private investigator. Then any court case which could take months to resolve.
There just wasn’t much sense in this case. Or actual dollars and cents for that matter.
With the state having declared his corporation in administrative dissolution, it’s unclear to me as a gun dealer what they are legally allowed to do with any ATF license that may be hanging on the wall.
Throwing out a few what if scenarios, even if we could locate the dealer – if he’s shut down and moved his business, the ATF license that he has is ONLY valid for business to be conducted at the premises listed.
There’s no provision for selling from the parking lot of a McDonalds or any other casually acceptable place to both parties. Would the dealer be able to legally perform a disposition of firearm to the client without the ATF signing off on his unannounced move? I would say probably not.
Getting a court order to compel the dealer to do a 4473 and give the customer his stuff is an option, but the dealer had already ignored everything already to this point. Would a court order make him take the situation any more seriously?
Questions like this make me glad I didn’t go to law school. Beth had a puzzle on her hands and as much as I tried to help her solve it, there was no clear solution.
I hate to say this but I’ve seen this happen from time to time over the years. My hunch is that her client will likely never be made whole from this mess.
The client is into Beth’s firm for a couple of hours of legal work trying to chase this dealer down with a minute amount of information trying to get his property back…or a refund. Even if the legal undertaking results in a judgement or a court order, at the end of the day he’d probably still be without the silencer and a lot of his money.
The moral of this story: know who you’re doing business with. I don’t understand how people treat customers this way. All that customers can do to protect themselves is a little due diligence. Make sure that a dealer you’re thinking of buying from has been in business for a while and has established a good reputation in the community.
Could there be a reasonable explanation for what happened? A death in the family? Plane crash? A plague of locusts? Maybe. Do I see one materializing anytime soon? Not really.
What I do see is a headache for Beth’s client. Just before she left, I gave her my business card and told her that if her client needs someone who can actually do the job, have him give me a call.
Have you had an NFA-related horror story with a dealer? Know someone else who has? What did you have to go through and how was it resolved?