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The Dark Web: What you and your business need to know

ftcDuring a recent meeting at Prince Law Offices, P.C., we were discussing ransomware and the dark web.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently posted a helpful description of the dark web and how it may impact you and your business.

You probably have heard about the “dark web” and wondered how it affects businesses – including small businesses. That was one of the topics addressed at an FTC conference earlier this year on identity theft. Recent headlines about high-profile data breaches have added even more urgency to the discussion. So why should the dark web matter to your company? Unfortunately, when a business suffers a breach, the dark web is often the next stop that sensitive data makes after it’s been stolen.

What is the dark web?

It’s a term that describes places on the internet not indexed by traditional search engines. While not every site on the dark web engages in criminal activity, the dark web is where sites that illegally sell consumer data and other black market goods tend to congregate. For identity thieves, the dark web is a sophisticated marketplace providing one-stop shopping to get the tools to commit cybercrime – whether it’s malware kits, stolen account information, or “drop” or “cash-out” services to help monetize their crimes.

What’s the link between the dark web and a business that experiences a breach?

In many instances, data stolen from businesses ends up on the dark web where criminals buy and sell it to commit fraud, get fake identity documents, or fund their criminal organizations.

Dark web offerings often include but aren’t limited to stolen credit cards. Identity thieves also can get compromised bank accounts, health records, credentials, and forged documents. They can even buy entire wallets, complete with credit cards, driver’s licenses, and documents like Social Security numbers and birth certificates – everything a criminal needs to create a new identity.

 

 

How does the dark web impact small businesses?

With so much media focus on data breaches at companies that possess personal information about millions of consumers, some smaller businesses and organizations might think that cybercriminals wouldn’t target them. They would be wrong. First, the reality is that cybercriminals don’t always target a particular business. They often use automated tools to scope out vulnerabilities in any system, including small businesses. Second, as presenters noted at the FTC conference, information available for sale on the dark web is up to 20 times more likely to come from an entity whose breach wasn’t reported in the media. Many of these are smaller retailers, restaurant chains, medical practices, school districts, etc. In fact, most of the breaches the U.S. Secret Service investigates involve small businesses.

There’s another way that data breaches injure us all. Identity theft and fraud have become go-to methods for funding criminal activity in the U.S. and around the world.

And all of this data links back to a real person – your customer – whose life can be adversely affected. Turning their financial affairs into a Gordian Knot is just the start. Some people have had their licenses revoked, been pulled over and arrested, or had criminal warrants issued in their name because of identity theft. When their information is used to commit medical identity theft, even their health could be at risk. Criminals have been known to use stolen data to get medical care or prescription drugs in someone else’s name. When an identity theft victim’s medical records become commingled with a perpetrator’s health information, the consequences could be catastrophic.

What can you and your business do to reduce the risk that information you collect could find its way to the dark web?

It starts with security and continues with your commitment to stick with it. The FTC’s data security page has resources for businesses of any size and sector. If you have customers, employees, or friends who are victims of identity theft, encourage them to report it and get a customized recovery plan at IdentityTheft.gov.

If you or your business have legal questions or concerns regarding disaster preparedness, computer law, privacy, or cybersecurity law matters, contact attorney Jeffrey A. Franklin at Prince Law Offices.

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The Protection in Lawful Commerce of Arms Act and the Fate of Slide Fire in the Aftermath of Las Vegas

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In October of 2005, the Protection in Lawful Commerce of Arms Act (PLCAA) took effect. Its purpose was simple – to shield manufacturers and sellers of qualified products from civil suits brought by victims and/or their families for the misuse of their product. Congress specifically stated in its findings that

Businesses in the United States that are engaged in interstate and foreign commerce through the lawful design, manufacture, marketing, distribution, importation, or sale to the public of firearms or ammunition products that have been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce are not, and should not, be liable for the harm caused by those who criminally or unlawfully misuse firearm products or ammunition products that function as designed and intended.

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Nine (9) days after the tragedy in Las Vegas, the first lawsuit has been filed against Slide Fire by three (3) individuals. Which begs the question, does the PLCAA shield Slide Fire and other manufacturers of accessories from such a lawsuit? This article will have 3 different sections: 1) what the PLCAA is and protects, 2) whether I believe Slide Fire is protected under the PLCAA, and 3) why it is important for manufacturers of firearm accessories to obtain an FFL.

What is the PLCAA?

The PLCAA precludes a qualified civil liability action from being brought in Federal or State court. While the wording of § 7902 is rather simple, it is the definitions are where the real analysis takes place.

The law defines a qualified civil liability action as

a civil action or proceeding…brought by any person against a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product…for damages, punitive damages, injunctive or declaratory relief, abatement, restitution, fines, or penalties, or other relief, resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a qualified product by the person or a third party…

In order to better understand what the law protects, we’ll need to examine the definitions of a few other terms.

The term “manufacturer” means

with respect to a qualified product, a person who is engaged in the business of manufacturing the product in interstate or foreign commerce and who is licensed to engage in business as such a manufacturer under [The Gun Control Act]

The term “seller” means

with respect to a qualified product—

(A) an importer (as defined in section 921(a)(9) of [The Gun Control Act]) who is engaged in the business as such an importer in interstate or foreign commerce and who is licensed to engage in business as such an importer under [The Gun Control Act];

(B) a dealer (as defined in section 921(a)(11) of [The Gun Control Act]) who is engaged in the business as such a dealer in interstate or foreign commerce and who is licensed to engage in business as such a dealer under [The Gun Control Act]; or

(C) a person engaged in the business of selling ammunition (as defined in section 921(a)(17)(A) of [The Gun Control Act]) in interstate or foreign commerce at the wholesale or retail level.

Qualified product is another term that Congress defined. A qualified product

means a firearm (as defined in subparagraph (A) or (B) of section 921(a)(3) of [The Gun Control Act]), including any antique firearm (as defined in section 921(a)(16) of [The Gun Control Act]), or ammunition (as defined in section 921(a)(17)(A) of [The Gun Control Act]), or a component part of a firearm or ammunition, that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce. (Emphasis added).

The law does provide six (6) specific exemptions to the general rule. They include

(i) an action brought against a transferor convicted under section 924(h) of [The Gun Control Act], or a comparable or identical State felony law, by a party directly harmed by the conduct of which the transferee is so convicted;

(ii) an action brought against a seller for negligent entrustment or negligence per se;

(iii) an action in which a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm for which relief is sought, including—

     (I) any case in which the manufacturer or seller knowingly made any false entry in, or failed to make appropriate entry in, any record required to be kept under Federal or State law with respect to the qualified product, or aided, abetted, or conspired with any person in making any false or fictitious oral or written statement with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of the sale or other disposition of a qualified product; or

     (II) any case in which the manufacturer or seller aided, abetted, or conspired with any other person to sell or otherwise dispose of a qualified product, knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the actual buyer of the qualified product was prohibited from possessing or receiving a firearm or ammunition under subsection (g) or (n) of section 922 of [The Gun Control Act];

(iv) an action for breach of contract or warranty in connection with the purchase of the product;

(v) an action for death, physical injuries or property damage resulting directly from a defect in design or manufacture of the product, when used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable manner, except that where the discharge of the product was caused by a volitional act that constituted a criminal offense, then such act shall be considered the sole proximate cause of any resulting death, personal injuries or property damage; or

(vi) an action or proceeding commenced by the Attorney General to enforce the provisions of [The Gun Control Act]or [The National Firearms Act].
Simply put, in order to be protected under the PLCAA, the person manufacturing or selling the product has to 1) fall within the definition of “manufacturer”, “seller” or “trade association” (which I did not cover in this article), 2) manufacture or sell a qualified product, and 3) be sued by a person for a person’s criminal or unlawful misuse. If none of the six enumerated exemptions apply, the lawsuit must be dismissed.

Does the PLCAA Protect Slide Fire?

While there is plenty of caselaw regarding the PLCAA, I have not seen any where accessories have been implicated. Obviously, the crux of the argument with regards to the PLCAA applying to Slide Fire would be that their product is a component part.

As we saw above, in order for the PLCAA to apply, Slide Fire must either meet the definition of Manufacturer or Seller. Fortunately for Slide Fire, they are a Type 07 FFL, which puts them into the definition of a Manufacturer under the PLCAA.

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The Slide Fire stocks are qualified products (being that they are “a component part of a firearm”). So it would naturally follow that the PLCAA would apply.

 

Why is it Important Manufacturers of Firearm Accessories Obtain an FFL?

If you haven’t guessed by now, we need to return to the definitions. The protection of the PLCAA is extended to manufacturers, importers, and dealers who are licensed under the Gun Control Act (also persons engaged in the business of selling ammunition at the wholesale or retail level). By obtaining an FFL, a company can place itself under the umbrella of the PLCAA, where they may otherwise not have the protections of the Act.

Had Slide Fire not been a licensed manufacturer (or dealer or importer) it is likely that they would be an open target to be sued without the PLCAA coming into play.

 

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One company is trying to make a profit before Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program commences.

Back in June of this year, the Pennsylvania Department of Health granted 12 medical marijuana grower/processor permits to the following companies:

Prime Wellness of Pennsylvania (Berks County)
Franklin Labs (Berks)
Pennsylvania Medical Solutions (Lackawanna)
Standard Farms (Luzerne)
Ilera Healthcare (Fulton)
AES Compassionate Care (Franklin)
Terrapin Investment Fund 1 (Clinton)
GTI Pennsylvania (Montour)
AGRiMED Industries of PA (Greene)
PurePenn (Allegheny)
Holistic Farms (Lawrence)
Cresco Yeltrah (Jefferson)

Under Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act, in order to obtain a grower/processor permit, an applicant had to pay a nonrefundable $10,000 initial application fee and along with $200,000 for the actual permit. The grower/processor also had to prove it had $2 million in capital on hand. Despite the steep price, the health department still received 177 applications for grower/processor permits and generated $1,770,000.00 in nonrefundable application fees.(The Department of state also received 280 applications for a dispensary permit which required payment of a $5,000.00 in non refundable initial application fees, or $1,400,000.)

Of the 177 applicants, only 12 grower/processor permits were issued so the demand was great. Now apparently one of the successful permit applicants is trying to sell the rights to his permit. Franklin Labs, LLC in Reading, Berks County is willing to sell 100% of Franklin Labs including the grower/processor permit for $20 million dollars. Franklin Labs also applied for a special clinical research (CR) license, and only applied for the grow permit as a backup plan. The CR license would allow the company to partner with a teaching hospital to conduct research on medical cannabis. Companies that are granted CR permit will receive permits to open a growing facility as well as six storefront dispensaries for selling oil-based cannabis products.

Under Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act, the issuance of a permit is a revocable privilege and any permit issued may not be transferred to any other person or location. Apparently, Franklin Labs is trying to circumvent the Act by selling of the whole company lock, stock, and barrel. The Department of Health has issued a statement saying that “no permit may be sold or transferred without approval from the Department of Health” but what about an entire company. Needless to say, this has caused some unsuccessful applicants to requests that Department of Health revoke Franklin Labs’ permit.

There is significant risk in purchasing Franklin Labs and its permit for $20 million dollars. The cost of applying for a permit during Phase II of the applications will still be $210,000.00. While there is no guarantee, the risk is still only the non-refundable $10,000.00 and whatever costs are incurred as part of the application process. While those costs could be significant, they are not likely to near $20 million dollars. Additionally, the Pennsylvania Department of Health could revoke the permit at any time or choose not to re-new it the next year. Despite the risk, Medical Marijuana is big business and it would not surprise me if an existing company in a state such as Colorado or California saw the sale of Franklin Labs as an opportunity to expand into Pennsylvania.

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A Pennsylvania tenant’s right to recover a security deposit.

Under Pennsylvania’s Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951, 68 P.S. ‘250.101, et. Seq., a landlord may require a security deposit to be held for tenant caused damages and possible past due rent. See 68 P.S. §250.511 and §250.512. A security deposit is not the same as rent. It is money that actually belongs to the tenant, but is held by the landlord for tenant-caused damages and sometimes past-due rent. Without the agreement of the landlord, a security deposit may not legally be used as the last month’s rent.

Pennsylvania law places a limit on the amount of a security deposit that a landlord may require. Under 68 P.S. §250.511a (a), no landlord may require a sum in excess of two months’ rent to be deposited in escrow for the payment of damages to the leasehold premises and/or default in rent thereof during the first year of any lease. During the second and subsequent years of the lease or during any renewal of the original lease the amount required to be deposited may not exceed one month’s rent. See 68 P.S. §250.511a (b). At the beginning of the second year of a lease the landlord may not keep a security deposit equal to more than one month’s rent and must return any money greater than one month’s rent still being held as a deposit. See 68 P.S. §250.511a (c) After five years the landlord cannot increase a security deposit even if the monthly rent is increased. 68 P.S. §250.511a (d).

Pennsylvania also regulates where residential security deposits must be kept and when interest payments on the security deposits must be made to the tenant. Security deposit monies in excess of $100 and held more than two years must be deposited by the landlord in an approved bank, and the tenant must be notified in writing where the bank and deposit is located. See 68 P.S. §250.511b (a). A landlord is entitled to receive as administrative expenses, a sum equivalent to one per cent per annum upon the security money so deposited, which shall be in lieu of all other administrative and custodial expenses. The balance of the interest paid shall be the money of the tenant making the deposit and will be paid to the tenant annually upon the anniversary date of the commencement of his lease. See 68 P.S. §250.511b (b).

After termination the lease or upon surrender of the lease and acceptance by the landlord of the leasehold premises, a landlord must provide a tenant with a written list of any damages to the leasehold premises for which the landlord claims the tenant is liable. Delivery of the list shall be accompanied by payment of the difference between any sum deposited in escrow, including any unpaid interest thereon, for the payment of damages to the leasehold premises and the actual amount of damages to the leasehold premises caused by the tenant. See 68 P.S. §250.512.

Reasonable wear and tear caused by a tenant’s lawful use of the lead premises is not damages. In 1979, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court officially recognized that an Warranty of Habitability that is implied in every residential lease agreement. Pugh v. Holmes, 486 Pa. 272, 405 A.2d 897 (1979). The Supreme Court decided that landlords who rent property for people to live in must make sure such property is “safe, sanitary and fit for human habitation.” A landlord’s obligations under the Warranty of Habitability cannot be taken from a tenant even if you sign a lease that says you are renting the property “as is” or that you are responsible for all repairs.

The warranty implies that the landlord has placed the rented premises in a livable conditions prior to the occupancy by the tenant; or that he will do so within a reasonable time after the occupancy of the demised residence; that the facilities will remain usable during the entire term of the lease and that the landlord will maintain the demised premises in a condition which will render the premises livable. Any repairs made necessary by reasonable wear and tear are the responsibility of the landlord. Derr v. Cangemi, 66 Pa. D & C 2nd 162 (1974).

A landlord is responsible for all normal wear and tear and must bear that cost as part of the implied Warranty of Habitability whenever he leases a property to a tenant. A landlord can not pass on normal wear and tear expenses to a tenant. Deluca v. Matthews, 2015 Pa. Dist & Cnty. Dec. Lexis 14718.

Assuming that there are valid damages, a landlord must refund the security deposit less the cost of the repairs on the list. If the landlord fails to do this, the tenant cannot be sued for any damages the landlord claims the tenant caused. In addition, if the landlord does not give the tenant this 30-day response, the tenant may sue for double the amount of the security deposit. In order to be able to sue for double the deposit, the tenant must give the landlord written notice of his or her new address once the tenant has moved out. See 68 P.S. §250.512.

Under 68 P.S. §250.512 (e), failure of the tenant to provide the landlord with his new address in writing upon termination of the lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises shall relieve the landlord from any liability under this section.

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Pennsylvania consumers protections under the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act

In previous blogs, I have discussed the protections provided consumers under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The FDCPA is a powerful deterrence to unscrupulous debt collectors and unlawful debt collection practices. The FDCPA is a comprehensive and reticulated statutory scheme, involving clear definitions, precise requirements, and particularized remedies. The validity of the underlying debt is not relevant or an issue under the FDCPA. There is no exception to liability for violating the FDCPA as a result of fraud on the part of the consumer. As long as the underlying obligation is a “debt” as defined b the FDCPA, the method of collections is irrelevant. The validity of the underlying debt is irrelevant as well.

The FDCPA “provides a remedy for consumers who are subjected to abusive, deceptive, or unfair trade collection practices by debt collectors.” A single violation of the Act triggers statutory liability and remedies. Under the FDCPA, a plaintiff may collect statutory damages even if he has suffered no actual damages. The FDCPA is essentially a strict liability statute, where the degree of the defendant’s culpability is relevant only in computing damages, not in determining liability.

Under the FDCPA, consumers are enforcing the FDCPA essentially acting as private attorney generals. Because consumers are acting as private attorney generals, an award of attorney fees is mandatory in an FDCPA case. That means that the FDCPA is essentially a fee shifting statute. If a consumer can demonstrates that the FDCPA has been violated, the consumer may recover actual damages, statutory, costs and attorney’s fees. The longer the lawsuit goes, the more the consumer can recover in attorney’s fees. The threat of an award of attorney’s fees is a very effective deterrent and leads to mean settlements early in litigation.

The FDCPA is not without its limitations. One of the biggest limitations of the FDCPA is that it only applies to debt collectors as defined by the FDCPA. It does not apply to creditors or assignees of the creditor when the assignment has occurred prior to the consumer’s default on the debt obligation. Attorneys acting as debt collectors are also included in the definition of debt collector under the FDCPA.

Typically when bringing a suit under the FDCPA, a consumer will name the debt collectors, and possible law firm and individual attorney hired by the creditor to collect on the debt for any violations of the FDCPA. However the creditor may not be named under the FDCPA.

From the perspective of obtaining the greatest recovery in a lawsuit, a consumer’s best option is to target the creditor as they usually have the deepest pockets. Under Pennsylvania’s Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (“FCEUA”), a consumer may also sue the creditor.

The FCEUA is Pennsylvania’s analogue to the FDCPA and applies to both debt collectors and creditors. A debt collector’s violation of any provision of the FDCPA constitutes a violation of the FCEUA which in turn constitutes a violation of Pennsylvania’s consumer protection law, the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”). The FCEUA allows a consumer to sue the original creditor as well as the debt collector for any violations of the FCEUA. The FCEUA protections mirror the FDCPA’s protections.

The FCEUA also has a two year statute of limitations as opposed to the FDCPA’s one year statute of limitations. Finally, as the FCEUA is also a violation of the UTPCPL, a consumer may recover actual damages or statutory damages whichever is greater, costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. Under the UTPCPL, a court may also award treble damages. Again a very effective deterrent which can lead to early settlements.

Any action by a consumer for unlawful debt collection practices must include claims for violations of the FDCPA as well as the FCEUA. It allows the consumer to sue the creditor as well as include older violations.

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Montgomery District Attorney Requested to Investigate and Charge Lower Merion Township for Proposed Firearm Regulation

As our viewers are aware, we became aware on August 30, 2017, that at its upcoming September 19th meeting, Lower Merion Township is considering a new firearm discharge ordinance, even after the Commonwealth Court struck down its current discharge ordinance and held that municipalities may not regulate discharge.

As a result, in a letter sent today, Attorney Joshua Prince formally requested that Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele open an investigation into this matter and file appropriate charges, including for violations of Section 6120 and official oppression.

We hope that District Attorney Steele will take a proactive approach, similar to that of Lancaster County District Attorney Crag Stedman, who recently sent out letters to all law enforcement agencies in Lancaster County advising that municipal regulation of firearms and ammunition is unlawful. Regardless, we would again urge everyone, especially residents and taxpayers in Lower Merion Township, to make the Commissioners aware of your position. The hearing on September 19th will start at 7:30 PM at Township Administration Bldg – 2nd Floor Board Room, 75 East Lancaster Ave, 2nd Floor Board Room Ardmore, Pennsylvania 19003-2323. Their telephone number is 610-649-4000 and you can contact the individual commissioners here.

If your rights have been violated by an illegal firearm or ammunition ordinance or regulation promulgated by a state agency, county, municipality or township, contact Firearms Industry Consulting Group today to discuss YOUR rights and legal options.

 


Firearms Industry Consulting Group® (FICG®) is a registered trademark and division of Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., with rights and permissions granted to Prince Law Offices, P.C. to use in this article.

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ATF releases 2017 Report on Firearm Commerce in the United States (Numbers, Bar Graphs, and Pie Charts!)

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ATF has released its annual Firearms Commerce in the United States Statistical Update for 2017. As my one friend put it, “[t]his is like fantasy football stats for silencer dorks.” It’s actually like that for a lot more than the silencer crowd, but I digress.

The Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Exportation Report (AFMER) is only current through 2015. This is because AFMER data is not published until one year after the close of a calendar reporting year because the information provided by those whole filed a report is protected from immediate disclosure by the Trade Secrets Act. Which is why you see a two year lag (2015 data reporting in the beginning of 2016 and a year delay between its reporting and publication).

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In 2015, there were a total of 9,358,661 firearms manufactured. This was up from 2014’s number of 9,050,626 by about 3.3%. Interestingly the number of exports fell by about 20%, from 420,932 in 2014 down to 343,456.

The total number of imports rose from 3,930,211 in 2015 to 5,137,771 in 2016 (imports are not included not the AFMER report which is why the numbers are more current). Interestingly, it was handguns that account for a little over 1.2 million more firearms imported in 2016. And as you may have guessed Austria leads the charge with handguns imported, accounting for over 1.3 million coming into the country. Probably a safe bet that Glock is responsible for the majority of those.

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For those of you NFA junkies, in 2016, there was $6,018,000 in occupational taxes paid (SOTs). This is up again from the year prior and slightly under double that of 2012. Taxes paid were $62,596,000 for 2016, almost double the year before (thanks ATF 41F). Interestingly, there were 6,547 record checks, which means that ATF searched the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) that many times to determine if a firearm was possessed lawfully or if the transfer was performed lawfully.

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In 2016, there were 49,985 Form 1s and 133,911 Form 4s filed. These numbers were up from the year prior, but not by a significant margin for the Form 4s (Form 1s were up by about 17,000). While the number of forms process by the NFA Branch was up about a million from the year prior, it was the Form 2s that accounted for almost half of that number. For those that are unaware, Form 2s are used by industry to give notice to ATF that they produced or imported a NFA firearm.

As far as NFA firearms registered by state, Texas leads with 588,696. California follows with 344,622. Florida, Virginia, and Pennsylvania round out the top 5. Interestingly, Connecticut leads the charge with registered machine guns, sitting at 52,965. However, when you consider law enforcement, it starts to make sense.

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There are currently 57,345 licensed collectors of curios or relics, making it the most popular license type. It is followed closely by dealer in firearms, of which there are 56,754 active licenses. ATF reports 137,464 active licenses. Texas holds 10,954 of those licenses, making it the state with the most.

In 2016, 16 license applications were denied. This number is down almost 50% from the year prior. As for compliance inspections, ATF performed 9,790 last year. This equates to 7.1% of all licensees in 2016 being inspected.

As always, the annual report helps give some insight as to ongoings within the firearms industry.

 

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