Pope Francis and the "Bad Apple" Gun Dealer Problem

by Jon Lowy and Kelsey Rogers
Legal Action Project

“Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” Pope Francis asked lawmakers in Washington on Thursday. “Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money – money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

The Pope may have been decrying the global arms trade, but his message equally applies to the problem of “bad apple” gun dealers right here at home.

Bad apple gun dealers are the 5 percent of the gun dealers who supply almost 90 percent of crime guns in America. In short, this small number of dealers are responsible for selling the guns used in virtually every gun crime, and they often sell these guns in reckless or illegal ways: to straw purchasers, gun traffickers, or obviously dangerous people. The gun industry makes millions of dollars by choosing to sell guns that any sensible person would know shouldn’t be sold. Together, bad apples supply guns used in over 400,000 crimes every year.

That’s why the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence is committed to stopping “bad apple” dealers. We are organizing protests against them, we are suing them when people are injured or killed as a result of their irresponsible actions, and we are calling on lawmakers and law enforcement to crack down on them. Our message is clear: bad apples need to reform their dangerous ways, sell guns responsibly—like almost 90 percent of gun dealers already do—or stop selling guns.

Take the allegations in some of the lawsuits Brady has brought on behalf of victims of gun violence:

  • A gun dealer sold 12 handguns to a woman after a gun trafficker picked them out in the store. One of the guns was used to shoot two police officers in New Jersey.
  • A gun dealer repeatedly sold guns to a drug-addicted straw purchaser. One of the guns was used to kill a 7-year old boy in Pennsylvania.
  • A gun dealer sold 87 handguns in a single purchase to gun traffickers for a few thousand dollars. One of the guns was used to shoot a high school student playing basketball in New York.

Congress’ response to the bad apple problem is even more culpable than the “shameful and culpable silence” to which Pope Francis warned us against. Congress enacted the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a 2005 gunlobby backed law that gives unprecedented immunity to “bad apple” dealers and the manufacturers who supply them. PLCAA delegates gun violence victims as second-class citizens who are barred from bringing the same civil liability lawsuits that other victims are entitled to. Additionally, the federal Tiahrt Amendment uniquely shields crime gun data from federal public disclosure requirements under the Freedom of Information Act, so dealers and manufacturers escape public scrutiny time and time again.

Whatever one’s faith, we can all agree that “it is our duty to confront th[is] problem.”