These Lee County gun shops sold the guns used in crimes, according to new federal list

The federal government is doing its best, despite legislative roadblocks, to track guns used in crimes back to where they came from. And of the newly revealed list of gun and pawn shops that have sold the most crime guns, two of the more than 100 on the list in Florida are located in Fort Myers and one each in Cape Coral and Bonita Springs.

Since 2003, the list of which gun stores sell the most crime guns has been kept secret, but USA TODAY, the parent company of the News-Press, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see one from an obscure federal program called Demand 2, a report of firearms transactions.

The four gun shops with Lee County addresses on the list are:

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is currently targeting more than 1,300 gun stores, pawn shops and sporting goods outlets across the country. Some of them are linked to recent high-profile mass shootings, such as River City Firearms in Louisville, which sold the AR-15 style rifle used to kill five people and injure several others last spring, and Bud’s Guns in Lexington, Kentucky, which sold the rifle used in Illinois' Highland Park 4th of July shooting that killed seven and injured 30 others.

What gets a gun shop on the Demand 2 list?

To get on the list the store must have sold at least 25 guns in a calendar year that were traced to a crime within the past three years. That short of a period can be an indicator of illegal trafficking and what law enforcement calls "time to crime." It was previously 10 guns but it was increased to 25 in 2018 under the Trump administration after requests from the gun lobby.

Being on the list is not an indication of wrongdoing on the shop's part, the ATF is quick to point out.

“A number of factors, including geography, sales volume, secondary market transfers by an original lawful purchaser, and the level of sophistication of firearm traffickers, may be involved in a traced crime gun,” ATF spokeswoman Kristina Mastropasqua wrote in an email.

Which stores sell the most crime guns in Florida?

Of the 101 stores in Florida that appear on the current Demand 2 list, three of them are the biggest gun dealers in the state. But that's not surprising since each location may sell thousands of guns in a year and the chances of unknowingly selling to someone who goes on to commit crimes are much higher. The biggest dealers on the list are:

  • Shoot Straight Inc: The largest gun store chain and dealer in Florida. Of their 11 locations across the state, nine of them are on the list: Two in Apopka and one each in Casselberry, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Lakeland, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Tampa.

  • RK Holdings: Illinois-based Rural King, a general merchandise store, has over 130 stores in 13 states. In Florida, these seven locations made the ATF list: Bonita Springs, Gainesville, Lake Wales, Leesburg, Ocala, Spring Hill and Zephyrhills.

  • Bass Pro Outdoor World: Bass Pro Shops, founded in Missouri, has over 170 locations in the U.S. and Canada. There are 10 in Florida but only five of them are on the Demand 2 list: Dania, Orlando, Port St. Lucie, Miami, and Tampa. Nationwide, nearly a third of their locations are on the list.

Why does the ATF track gun stores on the list?

Just being on the list does not mean the shop is itself criminal, and some shops that have sold guns that were later used in crimes are not on the list. Gun shops regularly cooperate with local law enforcement, the FBI and the ATF to track down the sources of crime guns.

But when a store sells enough crime guns in a year to make the list, they are required to submit additional quarterly reports on used firearm purchases to allow the ATF to track the secondary market for guns used in crimes. It also lets gun shops know that criminals and traffickers are targeting them.

It's also not perfectly indicative. Many guns used in crimes and shootings were legally purchased, bought at gun shows, from individuals or online, or stolen by people who were not able to buy them on their own.

Omar Mateen, the man who rampaged through the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, resulting in 49 dead, bought his weapons legally the week before. Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland six years ago this week and murdered 17 people bought his AR-15 perfectly legally over a year before. The owners of the shop where he bought it, Sunrise Tactical Supply in Coral Springs, worked with the FBI, appeared in court for Cruz's trial and closed up permanently months later "out of respect for those affected by this horrible tragedy," according to their lawyer.

In 2021, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University student who had posted threats about shooting up the school (but was arrested as he left his apartment) bought the semi-automatic rifle he was carrying on Facebook Marketplace, Daytona Beach police said.

The largest gun store lobby criticized the release of the list.

“If shops are named publicly and there are negative articles suggesting they're bad guys,” said National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Senior Vice President Larry Keane, “they won't want to cooperate with the ATF as they've done in the past.”

This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Florida shops selling crime guns under ATF scrutiny in obscure program