NC senator’s gun shop among hundreds monitored by ATF for weapons traced to crimes

For the third year in a row, the gun shop owned by U.S. Sen. Ted Budd was among hundreds across the country flagged by federal authorities in 2023 for selling weapons that were later traced to crimes, according to newly released records.

ProShots, the gun store and indoor shooting range near Winston-Salem that Budd has owned for 14 years, is on a list maintained by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that tracks gun dealers that sold at least 25 guns that were used or suspected of being used to commit a crime, or were in the hands of someone who couldn’t legally possess a weapon, over the course of a year.

The ATF sent letters to ProShots in May 2022 and April 2023 notifying them that they would remain on the list because they continued to sell a high number of so-called “crime guns.”

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the gun safety group Brady obtained two consecutive years of these notifications to gun dealers in the “Demand 2” monitoring program that triggers additional ATF scrutiny when 25 or more crime guns a year trace back to a dealer that had sold them within the prior three years.

The ATF focuses on that time frame because it’s an indicator that the guns might have been trafficked through straw purchasers who are buying on behalf of a third party, or other illegal means. But many gun shops on the list are high-volume sellers that would easily surpass the 25-gun threshold, one gun store chain president told USA Today, which published the list this month.

Dealers in the program have to provide the ATF quarterly reports of firearms they purchased from unlicensed sellers. Only 2% of the nation’s licensed gun dealers are in the monitoring program, Brady reported.

Spokespeople for Budd and ProShots told The News & Observer the gun store has “fully complied” with the law. A representative for ProShots also said the ATF’s list lacks important context about the traced crime guns that result in dealers being monitored. The representative said ProShots is confident it will be removed from the list.

The letters do not say how many guns ProShots has sold that turned up in criminal cases, and a ProShots representative said the ATF has not told them how many guns were involved.

What does it mean for a dealer to be included in ATF’s list?

The records show ProShots has been flagged for at least three consecutive years, said Tess Fardon, Brady’s senior counsel for programs and policy. The oldest letter Brady obtained, for guns traced in 2021, notes ProShots’ “continued participation” in the monitoring.

“While a dealer’s presence on the Demand 2 list does not necessarily in and of itself indicate that dealer is doing something illegal or reckless, it does indicate that they deserve heightened scrutiny, not only from the ATF and law enforcement agencies, but also from the public,” Fardon said.

The scrutiny can help reduce trafficked weapons, she said. A gun shop in Milwaukee stopped selling cheaply made handguns after being identified on the list in 1999, and that alone caused significant drops in gun crime and gun trafficking, a study found.

But such information had been hard to come by in years since, after Congress passed laws in 2003 prohibiting the ATF from spending money on publicizing gun trace data.

Budd, a Davie County Republican, has been a staunch gun-rights advocate since he was first elected a U.S. representative in 2016. He served three terms before winning election to the U.S. Senate in 2022. He has owned the gun shop and indoor range in the Forsyth County town of Rural Hall since 2010.

As a congressman, he opposed bipartisan legislation in 2022 that tightened gun regulations in the wake of a mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 children and two teachers. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, helped craft the legislation. Last year, Budd, Tillis and 11 other senators signed a letter criticizing the Biden administration for what they viewed as overly aggressive crackdowns on federally licensed gun dealers.

Fardon said ProShots’ continued presence on the ATF’s list shows Budd should spend less time fighting gun regulations and more time figuring out what he can do to prevent guns from his shop ending up in the wrong hands.

Budd is one of two federal lawmakers who own gun shops on the ATF’s list. The other is U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican, who criticized the monitoring program during a congressional hearing in April without disclosing one of his two gun stores was in it, The New York Times reported.

More than 70 gun dealers from across North Carolina were on the list in 2023, according to USA Today.

Budd’s store says it has ‘fully complied’ with the law

In a statement, Budd spokesman Curtis Kalin said that while Budd hasn’t been involved in the “day-to-day operations” of his gun store since he entered public office, “the business — which he purchased for a local police department in 2010 — has fully complied with all federal, state, and local laws and will continue to do so.” (Budd initially bought the then-bankrupt shooting range to provide police officers with a place to train. He later opened the facility to the public.)

Kim Kinder, the compliance manager at ProShots, said in a statement that the gun store “fully complies with the law and goes above and beyond what is required to ensure public safety.”

“The release of ATF’s list to USA Today is selective and deceptive,” Kinder said. “The list does not describe the type of crime that is committed, whether the firearm was material to the crime, or whether the firearm was sold or stolen from its original purchaser. Any insinuation that ProShots prioritizes anything less than responsibility and safety is simply wrong.”

Kinder said ProShots has only been included in the ATF’s list since September 2021 and has been providing the required data.

The store “experienced an increase in overall firearm demand during COVID, which matched the national trend,” Kinder said, adding that ProShots is “confident that we will be removed since the number of guns being sold has already fallen back to pre-pandemic numbers.”

Kinder said the ATF told ProShots it will be informed this spring whether it will be removed from the list based on the data it submitted in 2023.

Asked what steps the store takes to prevent guns from ending up in the hands of criminals, Kinder said ProShots follows all of the ATF’s regulations regarding background checks and the credentials that are required to buy a firearm.

Kinder said that if the buyer doesn’t pass the FBI’s NICS background check, or the results are delayed, the store holds off on the sale until it is told it can proceed. This closes the so-called “Charleston loophole” that allows purchases to go through even if a background check hasn’t been completed, Kinder said.

The store also doesn’t sell to people who fail to meet the requirements related to ATF paperwork that must be filled out with each sale from federally licensed dealers.

Other precautions Kinder mentioned include taking regular inventory, partnering with outside firms to ensure compliance, having physical security at the store, having staff trained to prevent straw sales, prohibiting photography and videography in the store, and granting every employee permission to refuse a sale to an individual that “gives any indication of mental illness.”