Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen on Tuesday proposed legislation to charge gun dealers $600 a year for a firearms license to discourage all but legitimate businesses from obtaining the permits.
The annual fee that has been $10 and is rising to $66 under recently passed legislation "isn't just ridiculous" but "goes all the way to reckless."The increase, which must be approved by Congress, is needed because "many people get licenses not to sell firearms but to buy them cheap for themselves," Bentsen said.
The higher fee "should eliminate 200,000 dealers, leaving only the actual ones in place. And it will end the de facto taxpayer subsidizing of the gun business," Bentsen said in a speech following a law-enforcement awards ceremony.
The secretary said the Clinton administration also would propose legislation to require a federal permit for people who purchase dynamite and other explosives, such as those used in a series of bombings last week in western New York. The proposal also would make theft of explosives a federal felony, Bentsen said.
The secretary unveiled the proposals as part of a broader administration effort to strengthen federal regulation of firearms.
"We have over 200 million guns," Bentsen said. "Every 10 seconds a gun rolls off an assembly line. Every 11 seconds we import a gun," he said.
"All these guns - yet we haven't had a war going on inside this country for 129 years."
Bentsen outlined legislative proposals to require the nation's 244,000 licensed gun dealers to give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms information needed to trace guns used in crimes. (ATF is part of Bentsen's Treasury Department.)
"Most dealers are helpful," he said. "But there are always some, like the one who tells our agents: `Sure, you can see my records, between the hours of 2 and 5 on a Sunday morning."
Another proposal Bentsen discussed would make it a felony for dealers to fail to keep required records or to falsify them. The administration would also ask Congress to require dealers to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours, he said.
Bentsen also unveiled a stepped-up effort to monitor gun trafficking in areas that account for 23 percent of the felony crimes committed nationwide.
ATF will focus on gun trafficking in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Detroit, Dallas, Houston and Florida, especially Miami.
Bentsen said he also directed ATF to identify all gun dealers to local police.
Stricter licensing of gun dealers is needed, law enforcement officials say, to prevent criminals from obtaining weapons from people who sell weapons across a kitchen table or from the trunks of their cars.
"We want ATF to have more discretion in granting licenses," Bentsen said.
ATF currently does not have the power to revoke or withhold a license if it determines that a dealer is flouting local ordinances, such as zoning laws that prohibit the operation of a business in a residential neighborhood or a gun dealership near a school. It can only report such violations to local authorities.
For 25 years, the licensing fee was $30 for three years. The fee was raised recently to $200 for a new three-year license and $90 for the three-year renewal of a valid license.
The increase was contained in the recently enacted Brady gun control act that imposes a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun purchases.