By Lee Williams
Tom Harris has been selling guns out of his Lewisville, Texas home for 30 years. He is so respected and beloved by his customers that one gave him a kidney – literally – which saved his life.
Dialysis wasn’t working well for Harris, owner of Sporting Arms Company, which he operates from a dedicated space in his home. He had only months to live until a 39-year-old retired Marine offered to help.
“I heard you might need a kidney. I’ll get tested,” Harris recalls the man saying in 2019. “I told him that he and his wife should pray about it first. He said, ‘We already have.’ He was a perfect match — a 7 out of 7. Now, even if I lose my business, it has allowed me to live.”
In what has become standard operating procedure since Joe Biden took office, the ATF is trying to intimidate Harris and other home-based gun dealers into surrendering his federal firearm license. If he refuses to comply — and he most likely will — Harris will face what ATF calls “adverse actions.”
ATF dug up procedural errors from as far back as 2007 to make their current “case” against Harris, but the ATF had already told Harris he was cleared of these 16-year-old clerical errors, as well as newer ones. He has letters attesting to this. Unfortunately, none of that matters to the ATF inspectors who recently began persecuting the 61-year-old disabled father of five only to satisfy their supervisors’ newfound zeal for more FFL revocations.
“They threw the kitchen sink at me after they cleared me because their bosses weren’t happy with it,” Harris told the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project last week. “They are trying to intimidate me into surrendering my FFL.”
Harris has an industrial engineering degree and a master’s in management. He worked as a senior director of North American operations for a large tech company while selling guns on the side, often putting in 100-hour weeks. He employed several off-duty local law enforcement officers to help with sales.
“I started selling guns right when the Bill Clinton administration started,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated guns from an engineering viewpoint.”
Business was slow until he received a bit of divine intervention. “A pastor prayed over my business, and it took off,” Harris said.
He describes his gun shop as “general purpose.” Since he has been in business so long, he can buy direct from companies like Colt and Smith & Wesson. He’s a master Kimber dealer. Harris estimates that around 40% of his transfers are “wholesale” to newer dealers.
“Most are gun show guys,” he said. “I did a few gun shows in the early 2000s but got tired and quit.”
Today, he’s one of the largest home-based gun dealers in north Texas. He has more than 10,000 customers across the country and has sold more than 184,000 firearms. His 30-plus Google reviews are extremely positive.
Harris has never had any serious discrepancies during previous ATF audits, other than for his penmanship. Harris now qualifies as legally blind, but when his wife quit her job and began helping with the paperwork full-time, that problem was quickly solved.
Unlike some home-based dealers, guns sales are not a hobby for Harris. They’re his sole source of income. “My 84-year-old mother is now living with us, and three of the five kids are still ‘on the till’ in college,” he said.
After an audit last year, two ATF special agents asked some pointed questions about multiple firearms Harris sold to an individual. “They put the squeeze on me, but I answered all their questions and gave them whatever they wanted,” he said.
One of the ATF officials — Special Agent Aaron Loving — told Harris’ attorney he was cleared of any wrongdoing. Harris’ attorney documented this conversation in a letter.
“Agent Loving has informed me that you are no longer the target of any criminal investigation, and there will not be any criminal prosecutions forthcoming,” the letter states.
And then the ATF changed its mind.
A few months later Special Agent Loving re-contacted Harris’ attorney, stating “We need Tom to give up his license voluntarily. The bosses up the chain want him to turn in his license or face adverse actions,” Harris recalls his attorney saying. “We thought this was all over,” Harris said.
Last month, Special Agent Loving and his partner personally served a Notice of Revocation to Harris.
Harris’ Notice of Revocation contains two violations:
1. “On 10 occasions, Licensee willfully aided and abetted a non-licensee in dealing firearms without a license as required by the GCA…”
2. “On 46 occasions, Licensee willfully made a false statement or representation with respect to information required by the GCA …”
Harris has since learned that the individual to whom he sold the firearms is now under investigation by the ATF.
“This individual was a customer of several FFLs,” Harris said. “The ATF had cleared me of any wrongdoing. They alleged I aided and abetted on 10 forms, but at the time the individual was actively being approved for his FFL. All of this was originally approved by the ATF, who said on multiple occasions I followed all the regs.”
Krissy Y. Carlson, ATF’s Director of Industry Operations (DIO) for its Dallas Field Office, signed Harris’ Notice of Revocation. She did not respond to calls or emails seeking her comments for this story. ATF Special Agent Aaron Loving said, “I can’t – I’m not gonna speak on any active investigations.”
Agent Loving was specifically asked if he told Harris’ attorney that he was no longer the subject of any criminal investigation. “I cannot speak to any active investigation,” Loving said, again.
Instead, Loving offered the name and number of Sara Abel, the public information officer for ATF’s Dallas Field Office, but the number he gave doesn’t work.
Like other home-based FFLs, Harris was told nothing would happen if he just surrendered his FFL voluntarily. Like other home-based FFLs, ATF wanted more than just compliance and his license.
“They were taking pictures left and right, which I knew was inappropriate,” Harris said. “They used a scanning app on their phones to photograph 4473s. At the end of one session an inspector demanded a copy of my entire electronic database.” Harris handed it over.
He says intends to fight.
“On a Monday last January, the ATF called and demanded that I get rid of all my guns by Friday and surrender my license,” Harris said. “They said they’d be here that Friday to sign the paperwork. I knew it wasn’t ATF’s administrative procedure. I knew it was abnormal. I told them I declined to voluntarily surrender my license.”
Said Harris: “I will not be intimidated into surrendering my license.”
One of Harris’ longtime customers has created a GiveSendGo account to help him raise funds for his legal defense.
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This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and is published here with their permission.