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REVELATIONS about the sloppy, arrogant business practices of a nationally known Skagit County retailer with a lethal inventory are stunning.

To know that Kesselring Gun Shop had been arming generations with virtually no regulatory oversight, even after grotesque violations were discovered, made Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter’s story all the more shocking.

Nearly a decade ago, after more than a half-century in business, the gun shop received its first visit by inspectors with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

They discovered that nearly 2,400 assault-style rifles and handguns could not be accounted for. A seemingly incurious ATF did nothing for the next five years.

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Incredibly, it took a nasty state workers’ compensation claim inside the family-owned business to provide any transparency about the pumping of thousands of lethal weapons into society.

As Carter pointed out, when the ATF finally made Kesselring a priority, inspectors spent four months compiling evidence of ATF violations “in virtually every aspect of the shop’s operation.”

The gun shop failed to have buyers provide key information on purchase forms. Instant background checks were not documented. Guns were sold to non-Washington residents. Multiple handgun sales to one person were not documented in a half-dozen cases.

The company surrendered its license last October. That leaves Washington with 1,093 firearms dealers.

ATF officials are already numb to criticism the agency is not doing its job. Congress — with malice of pro-gun forethought — is not providing budgets to match the size of the regulatory task.

Handfuls of ATF inspectors have enormous geographic regions to cover. They cannot do it, and too many in Congress could not be happier.

Local efforts to require background checks at gun shows are embarrassingly obvious in light of this epic chaos. Background checks fall into the humble category of doing what is possible.

America is awash in guns, and they turn up in ways that defy imagination and claim innocent lives. The mind boggles at what else is going on behind the scenes elsewhere.

Beyond more background checks, the other no-brainer step is giving ATF the budgets it needs to do a credible job.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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