Washington Large numbers of firearms are illegally distributed by corrupt gun dealers and at gun shows, according to a government report that also found that a quarter of traffickers are convicted felons.
The Clinton administration quickly seized upon Wednesday's report by the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to bolster its case for stricter gun controls.
But the National Rife Assn. said the administration should focus on enforcing gun-control laws already on the books.
"To the extent the felons are buying guns, they ought to be arrested and put in jail," said James Baker, the NRA's chief lobbyist.
Although corrupt licensed gun dealers were involved in fewer than 10 percent of ATF's investigations, they were associated with the largest total number of diverted guns 40,365. They also had the highest average number of guns per investigation 354.
Gun shows, where licensed and unlicensed dealers sell, were associated with the second-highest average number of guns per investigation, 130, and accounted for nearly 26,000 trafficked firearms. Fourteen percent of ATF investigations involved firearms trafficked at gun shows.
"The report shows that loopholes in our laws help make gun shows and corrupt gun dealers major channels for gun trafficking," President Clinton said in a statement. "Many of the diverted weapons supplied by traffickers were later used to commit serious crimes, including homicides, robberies and assaults," he said.
The report was based on 1,530 investigations that ATF initiated between July 1996 and December 1998, involving 84,128 firearms.
Of the 2,670 traffickers identified by ATF agents in those investigations, 25 percent of them were convicted felons, the report said.
Clinton said he will continue to press Congress to pass his proposals to crack down on illegal gun trafficking, including handgun licensing and registration, and changing rules that currently allow some gun buyers to avoid background checks at gun shows. People who buy from unlicensed dealers at gun shows are not subject to the background check, but those who buy from licensed dealers are.
Legislation that would do some of those things, including requiring background checks for all buyers at gun shows, has been gridlocked in Congress.