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Paperwork essential in gun transactions

BEMIDJI - Gun purchases made on behalf of another person is one of the issues facing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Straw purchases" occur when a buyer purchases a firearm for another person who may or may not be prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

"It is sometimes difficult for a dealer to spot these transactions," said Mary Jo Hughes, the director of industry operations for the ATF in St. Paul.

The ATF was in Bemidji Wednesday as it hosted an educational seminar with 100 federal firearms licensees.

There are about 114,000 licensees in the U.S., including 2,673 in Minnesota, who must be relicensed every three years.

The seminar was voluntary. Licensees were encouraged to attend to hear from speakers about compliance, inspections and violations.

The final presentation focused on recognizing and deterring straw purchases.

Hughes, in an interview before the seminar, said the agency encourages licensees to contact the ATF if anything about a sale seems off or makes the licensee feel uncomfortable.

No one ever has to complete a sale, she noted.

"Sometimes a dealer's gut instinct is better than a piece of paper," she said.

Dealer inspections cannot be done more than once a year.

The St. Paul office, which covers four states - Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin - has 13 industry operation investigators and about 4,300 licensees.

"We use our resources to visit the dealers that need to be visited," Hughes said.

In determining who should be inspected, she said staff considers a licensee's prior inspection record and risk factors, such as whether there were repeated theft reports from that dealer or previous unsuccessful traces of firearms sold there.

"We have to visit those FFLs that pose a greater concern," Hughes said.

The unannounced inspections consist of the inspection of inventory and firearm sales and also the detailed examination of required paperwork.

When a deficiency is found, the investigator and dealer discuss ways to improve.

"We sit down and talk to them about internal controls," Hughes said.

About 320,000 firearms are traced each year, according to the ATF, following them back from the commission of the crime to the manufacturer to the dealer to the buyer.

"That's why the paperwork is so important," said Bob Schmidt, public information officer for the ATF in St. Paul.