- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Gun dealers in Virginia and two other states have agreed to have their sales monitored to settle a civil lawsuit accusing them of recklessly selling firearms later used to commit crimes in New York.

The three shops were among 15 sued by the city last spring after they sold pistols to undercover investigators posing as “straw purchasers” — people who buy guns on behalf of someone prohibited from owning them.

Each store denied wrongdoing, but five have now settled, including Cole’s Gun Shop in South Boston, Va.

Under the deal announced yesterday, a monitor selected by the city will review sales activities at the shops for at least three years. Sales clerks may be videotaped or subjected to spot checks by undercover inspectors. Dealers whose sales violate federal or local laws may have to pay fines ranging from $1,000 to $20,000.

“By increasing monitoring and accountability among these gun dealers, we’re making sure that these guns don’t end up on New York City streets or those of other cities across our country,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said.

“These gun dealers have stepped up to do the right thing and I encourage the remaining 10 dealers to do the same.”

The stores covered by the new agreement also included Big Tom’s Pawn Shop, of Savannah, Ga., and Dunkelbergers Sports Outfitters, of Stroudsburg, Pa.

The city targeted the shops because they were among those that had most often sold weapons later seized by New York City police.

Between 1994 and 2001, at least 32 guns sold by Cole’s, 27 sold by Big Tom’s and 44 sold by Dunkelbergers were recovered in New York in connection with a crime, according to the lawsuit. Police seized another 50 Dunkelbergers guns between 2001 and 2005.

Big Tom’s Pawn Shop owner Eric Richman said he was confident his store had done nothing wrong, but agreeing to monitoring was better than fighting a costly legal battle.

“I think it’s good for everybody,” he said. “If I can help and be a conduit to get handguns off the street and out of the hands of criminals, I’m your guy.”

The owner of Dunkelbergers declined to discuss the settlement without first consulting his lawyer. The owner of Cole’s Gun Shop and an attorney for the store did not immediately return phone messages.

Between 80 and 90 percent of the firearms used to commit crimes in New York City are initially purchased out-of-state, according to police.

Some dealers in the suit had argued that their guns were turning up in New York only because they were located near major highways in states where it is easier to legally buy a handgun.

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