Gun-friendly Texas had most gun dealer violations in the nation, USA TODAY analysis shows

The violators, both in Texas and across the nation, often faced few or any sanctions, the analysis showed.

John C. Moritz
Corpus Christi Caller Times

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott and several of the state's top Republican leaders point with pride to an array of recent efforts to expand the gun rights of law-abiding Texans and have vowed to resist any federal efforts they believe might chip away at the Second Amendment.

But a yearlong investigation by USA TODAY in partnership with a publication called The Trace that examines gun violence in the United States suggests federal authorities have not been overly aggressive when it comes to cracking down on dealers who run afoul of gun rules.

An unloaded gun with bullets lying near a loaded magazine and container of more bullets

Not only did Texas gun dealers have more federal violations than any other state during the period covered, 2015 to 2017, the number of violations is twice as high as the state with the second highest number, according to the USA TODAY/The Trace analysis of data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

But often, the investigation found, the dealers receive few, if any, sanctions for violating federal rules regarding paperwork, background checks and prohibited purchasers.

More:After repeated ATF warnings, gun dealers can count on the agency to back off; sometimes firearms flow to criminals

Andi Turner, a spokeswoman for the Texas State Rifle Association, said she could not comment on any specifics because she had no firsthand details. But she suggested that federal agencies too often bog themselves down with paperwork rules while failing to follow up on legitimate matters involving background checks and other matters that directly affect public safety.

"The, the gun control advocates will tell you background checks work. Well, no, apparently not. Because the FBI doesn't follow up on them," Turner said. "So what I would say to this is, physician, heal thyself."

In all, the publications' analysis showed that in Texas 317 gun dealers in 320 inspections received a warning letter or worse from the ATF, the investigation found.

USA TODAY and The Trace found 82 cases across the country where the ATF initially recommended pulling a gun dealer's license, but later downgraded that recommendation. In Texas, three downgrades were found.

More:What is a 'Second Amendment Sanctuary' State, and what would happen if Texas became one?

Andrea Bauer, an advocate for gun safety measures, said she 's not surprised by the analysis' findings and state leaders should act to ensure guns cannot be sold to people who should not have them.

"The ATF has been under-resourced for many years," Bauer said. "People fall through the cracks, and, ideally, states need to establish sound state laws in order to strengthen oversight to make sure bad actors don't continue and perpetuate more crime."

Houston, the state's largest city, had the most gun-dealer violations, 22. But several far less populated cities rounded out the state's top 20. Laredo, the state's 10th largest city, was No. 2 with 11 violations. Corpus Christi, eighth in population, was tied with Midland ( 23rd in population) with 9.

The store with the most citations in a single federal inspection — 15 — was Fountain Firearms Investments Inc. of Houston, the analysis found.

More:Guns in America: Nearly 40 million guns were purchased legally in 2020 and another 4.1 million bought in January

Among the most common citations in the state: Firearms licensees failed to record specific details of people buying or selling weapons on an ATF "firearms transaction record" form, known as a 4473. Licensees are supposed to record name, sex, address, date and place of birth, weight, race, citizenship and other information on the form. Reporters reviewed 1,494 citations in Texas. Some citations were redacted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.

This story contains reporting from USA TODAY and The Trace.

Texas cities with the most violations

  • Houston — 22
  • Laredo —11
  • Corpus Christi — 9
  • Midland — 9
  • Victoria — 7
  • Arlington — 6
  • Odessa — 6
  • Edinburg — 6
  • Harlingen — 5
  • Plano — 5
  • Tyler — 5
  • Weatherford — 5
  • McAllen — 5
  • Katy — 5
  • Pharr — 4
  • Rockport — 4
  • Granbury — 4