Sunday, August 01, 1999

Gun restrictions working, flea market owner says




BY KRISTINA GOETZ
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        RICHWOOD — It's been a little over two months since the owner of a popular Boone County flea market banned the sale of firearms except by licensed vendors. Early indications, he says, are that the ban is working to keep guns out of criminals' hands.

        “The people who aren't supposed to be getting guns aren't getting them,” said Mike Stallings, owner of Richwood Flea Market.

        Long concerned about the unregulated buying, selling and trading of firearms, Mr. Stallings and his brother, Mark, instituted the ban in late May after learning that one of the guns used in the Littleton, Colo., shooting where a dozen students and a teacher were killed was bought at a gun show.

        Before the ban, Mr. Stallings said, he started noticing a pattern of behavior by a few people who came to sell and trade every weekend.

        “These people were selling firearms on a weekly basis,” he said. “They were trying to circumvent the law. We knew what they were doing.”

        It is legal for individuals to sell a handgun on occasion. But if they want to be gun dealers, they are required by law to be licensed.

        “The law says an occasional sale,” said Chris Tardio, the resident agent in charge at the Cincinnati field office of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. “If someone comes every weekend with a table full of guns, that's not occasionally.”

        Licensed dealers must run a check to see whether the buyer has a record in the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

        Jerry Moose, one of the licensed vendors at the flea market who has been there for 13 years, said he saw a dramatic increase in the number of rejections after the ban started.

        “I had about 20 rejections in the first month,” he said.

        That's compared to the five or six he usually gets in a six-month period.

        “One guy came in three weeks in a row trying,” he

        said.

        What that tells Mr. Stallings is that there were people buying guns at his flea market who shouldn't have been, he said.

        “That just reinforced what we thought all along,” he said, adding that some people perceive flea markets as places where they can deal under the table.

        Mr. Tardio explained that flea markets, guns shows, straw purchases and theft count for the majority of ways criminals get firearms.

        “They're as innovative as they have to be,” he said.

        Mr. Moose has also seen attempted straw purchases since the ban was enacted. One man offered another $100 if he'd buy him a gun, Mr. Moose explained.

        “We flat out said no,” he said.

        The ban has also changed the atmosphere of the flea market. There are no longer people walking around the facility carrying rifles and handguns. That has been good for business.

        “If a young couple from the suburbs is trying to buy produce and sees shotguns over their shoulders and pistols in their pants, they're not going to come back,” Mr. Stallings said.

        Other flea markets in Greater Cincinnati are also trying to slow the sale of firearms by unlicensed vendors. Most only allow sales by licensed vendors. Others don't allow guns on the premises at all.

        One flea market, though, Caesar's Creek Flea Market near Wilmington, Ohio, still allows transactions between individuals, although owners are examining the policy.

        “There have been, historically, people coming out for 20 years,” said Ryan Levin, vice president of the corporation. “They grew up with their fathers bringing them out here.”

        Mr. Levin said he wants to strike a balance that would ensure the safety of his customers while allowing those who are legally allowed to purchase guns to do so.

        “We're not sure how far we want to go,” he said, adding that the policy could be as strict as forbidding anyone on the premises from walking around with a gun to requiring every customer to register his gun at the flea market.

        The flea market already has some measures of security. Mr. Levin checks each weapon that comes on the premises himself to make sure it isn't loaded.

        He's not anti-gun, he said, but is also not against control.

        “I'm willing to meet people half way,” he said.

        That's what Mr. Stallings believes he has done.

        “We felt it was the best position for all possible worlds,” he said. “We've been very pleased with the decision that's been made. ... Tradition is one thing, but complying with the letter of the law and being realistic is another.”

       



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