Amazon’s newspaper, the Washington Post, is trumpeting the latest “win” for the mostly moribund Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. In an article titled, How a gun-control group got the owner of Lock N Load to quit the business, Cleve R. Wootson Jr. details the process the Brady Bunch used to drive Gerald Tanso out of selling retail firearms.
Tanso’s store, Lock N’ Load of Oldsmar Florida, had refused to sell Benjamin Bishop a gun. It’s not clear what raised their antennae, but it was the right decision. Bishop “had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and claimed he was attacked by assailants.” Maybe it was his behavior or maybe Bishop answered the question regarding mental illness on the Form 4473 honestly. Whatever the reason, Lock N Load turned him away.
But Bishop persuaded a friend, Matthew Schwab, to buy a shotgun for him. A gun he then used to murder his mother and her boyfriend.
The transaction was a straw purchase, in which someone buys a gun for a person who is legally prohibited from possessing one. Straw purchases are illegal for both the buyer and the seller, though the Tampa Bay Times reported that the teen who bought the shotgun later cooperated with authorities and wasn’t charged with a crime.
Here’s a question: why the hell wasn’t Schwab charged? As the NSSF is more than happy to inform anyone who wants to know, a straw purchase is a serious crime. A felony punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
Prosecuting straw purchasers — particularly when an illegal sale resulted in two dead bodies — would seem to set a useful example, a deterrent to anyone considering doing the same.
Enter the Brady Campaign. You know, the same people who tried to sue Lucky Gunner after the Aurora theater shooting and ended up sticking one of the victim’s families with a $200,000 bill.
In this case, they went after Lock N Load’s owner.
A lawsuit filed in 2014 in a Florida circuit court by the families and the Brady Center claimed that the store’s owner, Gerald Tanso, didn’t do enough to keep a dangerous weapon out of the hands of a mentally ill man with a criminal record.
He “didn’t do enough,” even though he’d already refused to sell a gun to Bishop. Even though the only way Bishop got his hands on that shotgun was to get Schwab — who’s now walking around scot-free — to buy it for him.
You can probably imagine the attorney fees Tanso racked up to defend himself. And in case you’re unaware, a local gun store isn’t exactly a high margin business. You don’t see a lot of LGS owners tooling around in Ferraris.
So, no doubt faced with ruinous legal bills, Tanso was forced to throw in the towel, selling his store as part of a settlement in order to make the suit go away (and probably avoid bankruptcy).
But that wasn’t enough for the Brady Campaign. They needed a bloody scalp they could waive as a sign of “victory.” As part of the deal, Tanso also had to release the following statement:
“I have sold my gun shop and will no longer engage in the business of selling firearms,” Tanso said in the statement. “Our Second Amendment protects the rights of law abiding citizens and we must protect those rights. At the same time, we must exercise great caution and due diligence with great responsibility in preventing firearms from getting in the wrong hands of people who seek to harm us all.
“I support laws that protect our Second Amendment and the laws that protect our society from criminal elements who would abuse that right to the detriment of others. I encourage all gun dealers, including the new owner of my gun shop, to implement such measures.”
You can almost picture the (metaphorical) gun the Brady Campaign held to his head when he signed his name to that statement.
Given their impotence in getting stricter gun control laws passed at the federal level — even during the gun-control-friendly Obama years — the Brady Campaign appears to have changed tactics. They’ve taken up a new weapon — lawfare — aiming to make it more financially risky to sell a legal consumer product to Americans who pass federally mandated background checks.
Jonathan Lowy, a Brady Center attorney involved in the case, said the organization has been going after the small percentage of gun stores that, he said, are responsible for 90 percent of the guns used in crimes.
“Most gun dealers are responsible business people who do what they can to prevent dangerous people from getting guns, but unfortunately there are some that don’t,” Lowy told The Post.
“For those gun dealers who just care about the bottom line and just care about the money they make from the next gun sale … lawsuits like this mean it’s no longer profitable. … We’re hoping we can change the calculus for those gun dealers.”
Wait. What about the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, you ask? Shouldn’t that protect gun stores like Lock N Load from this kind of extortion racket? Yes, but that still takes time and money. Lots of both to fend off a determined litigious actor like the Brady Bunch, even if their suit is otherwise frivolous.
As former NRA president Marion Hammer said,
The Brady Center “is determined to find any way it can to destroy Second Amendment rights of citizens,” she said, adding: “There don’t appear to be individuals they target — it’s a cause. And if they get an individual gun shop owner in their sights, they’re going to spend whatever it takes unless the courts step in and put a stop to this malicious behavior.”
So chalk one up for Brady’s infliction of death by litigation costs. But while Mr. Tanso was forced out of his own business, Lock N Load isn’t gone. As the Post article notes,
Lock N Load still exists, but it has a new owner: Dominic Zingale, a federally licensed firearms dealer, who said in a written statement to the Tampa Bay Times that he “will continue to follow all of the applicable ATF, Florida, and local guns laws and procedures set forth by them to the letter.” He added that he has “no operational ties to the former owner nor have I worked with him when he was in the firearms business.”
Keep your head on a swivel, Mr. Zingale.