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The National Retail Hardware Association has a membership of approximately 20,000 hardware dealers located in communities throughout the United States. These hardware retailers maintain independently owned and operated establishments. Historically, they have served the daily hardware needs of their local communities. They carry stocks of various lines of hard goods, such as hand tools, garden tools, housewares, sporting goods (including guns and ammunition), and also do repair work on guns, paint, builders' hardware, nails, wire products and farm supplies.
Approximately 69 percent of our 20,000 member-stores are located in communities under 25,000 population. More than one-half are in towns under 10,000 population.
While these truly small businessmen may be thought by some to be individually of relative insignificance, collectively, and in their own communities, they represent a substantial position in the economy. Local people in small communities rely upon the hardware dealer to supply the daily hardware needs of the community.
Our members have, we assure you, the same concern as members of this committee with problems caused by irresponsible people by improper and illegal use of firearms. The hardware industry has for years favored measures designed to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible people; as I understand it, this is just about the 100 percent of the goal of this legislation, and in no way are you attempting to keep the boy whose father wants him to have a B.B. gun and then grow into a rifle and then grow into a .410 shotgun and then a 20-gage shotgun and then a 10-gage shotgun.
This is something I feel should be encouraged in the country, not discouraged-in the right hands.
At the same time, this industry has also historically supported the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns and to use them freely for legal and proper purposes.
We supported the principles set forth in S. 1975 as introduced by the chairman. We believed that bill was properly designed to assist law enforcement officials in crime prevention. That bill would have prohibited mail-order sales of concealable weapons to persons not eligible to purchase them under State and local laws and regulations.
At the same time, it did not impose unreasonable restrictions and regulations on sales of guns and ammunition to law-abiding citizens. Furthermore, it did not impose prohibitive license fees for thousands of responsible dealers throughout the Nation who have been serving the needs of the local communities throughout the land.
The retail hardware industry is in general agreement with the objectives included in the President's message to the Congress on crime prevention. We were alarmed, however, at the impact we felt sure S. 1592 would have on hardware stores handling guns and ammunition. The average hardware store makes a net profit of less than $100 per year on the sales of these items.
In 1961-I should emphasize "net profits" so there is no misunderstanding, I am not talking gross profit.
In 1964, our hardware stores earned an average of 1.65 percent profit on sales. Thus the average hardware store would have to do an annual volume of sales of guns and ammunition of approximately $6,500 just to pay the $100 license fee.
Senator Dopp. Do you mind if I ask a question as you go along? Mr. RICKBEIL. No; you go right ahead.
Senator Dodd. I won't interrupt you if you don't want it.
Senator Dopp. I have had the feeling that many people in this business had the view if this bill was passed it would put them out of business. Of course, I never thought that was true. I think the license fee for the retailer should be much lower than the $100. I have said so several times.
Would that make a difference to you? Mr. RICKBEIL. Yes, it would. More than 90 percent of our members sell shotgun and rifle ammunition. Approximately two-thirds sell shotguns and rifles. It is estimated that less than one-third sell concealable weapons. There is a point here I would like to make; because our town is just 7 miles from
7 the Iowa border, and our trade territory extends down into Iowa, and this happens, of course, in many communities; and under one part of the law it says that if a customer, for example, from Iowa, comes up to our store and buys a handgun, a pistol or a revolver, why he can't take it back with him to Iowa, and I just wondered if this is the real intent of the law, because you are allowed under the law to go across the State border with pistols and handguns.
Senator DODD. Yes.
As a matter of fact, it is a little worse than that. You can't sell him a handgun at all if he is from out of State.
Mr. RICKBEIL. That is right.
Mr. RICKBEIL. He can buy it in his own State but I just wondered if this was the intention and, of course, his father could buy it in our store and give it to him.
Senator Dodd. If he was a resident.
Mr. RICKBEIL. If he was a resident of Minnesota and then he could go back into Iowa, you see.
Senator Dodd. Well, you can't make these things cover everything. Mr. RICKBEIL. It is just a point I want to mention.
Senator Dopp. I know. I wish there were some way to tighten that up. But I don't know how you can ever do that.
Mr. RICKBEIL. Well, out in our rural communities we feel every gun we sell is for sporting purposes. Of course, the handguns are more or less used for gophers and rabbits and what not.
I will continue.
Immediately after S. 1592 was introduced we made a ballot survey of our entire membership to determine interest and opinions on the following six points.
The first question that was asked in this survey that went to the 20,000 members of the association; the first question, whether for or against S. 1592 as introduced, if you will move to the answer, 92 percent opposed S. 1592 as introduced.
The No. 2 question was whether for or against the proposed sin dealer license fee. And of course here is the No. 1 reason ther were opposed as introduced. The answer was 96 percent opposed the proposed $100 dealer license fee. Of course, we have been accustomed to paying a dollar a license now, we are licensed for a dollar.
No. 3 question was position on provision outlawing interstate and mail-order sales. Answer: 64 percent supported the provision outlawing interstate and mail-order sales.
No. 4 question: position on provision outlawing sales to minors. Answer: 53 percent opposed the provision outlawing sales to minors. This was a surprise.
Senator Dodd. You are not one of them, obviously.
Mr. RICKBEIL. This was a surprise to me, because in Minnesota through our firearms safety program, we have learned a lot about helping young people to learn how to use guns, and do it through limited restrictions.
Mr. Mashaw. Mr. Chairman, if I might interject, I think it would assist in evaluating this return, I think it reflects the extremely rural nature of the location of these stores and local rules which have grown up over the years in selling guns to teenagers.
Senator Dodd. I am sure you are right about that.
Mr. MASHAW. We didn't editorialize to influence the return. We wanted to know what they thought about.
Senator Dodd. I understand.
Mr. RICKBEIL. Question No. 5, whether they would continue to sell firearms and ammunition if required to pay a $100 license fee?
Ninety-one percent stated they would discontinue sales of firearms and ammunition if required to pay the $100 license fee.
Now, of course, this would mean in 10 years a thousand dollars, and this has to come out of net profits.
No. 6 question, the amount considered reasonable as a dealer license fee.
Answer: Amounts considered reasonable as a licensing fee: 42 percent said the $1 we now pay; 33 percent said $5; 16 percent said $10; 6 percent, $25; 1 percent, $50; and 2 percent, $100.
We received a return of more than 4,000 ballots. They came from every State.
We wish to reemphasize at this time the fact that in small towns and in rural communities the local hardware store is the source of supply for firearms and ammunition on a year-round basis.
You see, really, in a community like ours we are almost in a different world than the problems New York has. We are selling—we never think of someone buying a weapon from us, really, for a robbery or a crime. We are selling it for sport, and a gun to a boy is like a doll to
. a little girl.
Senator Dodd. I think there is a difference unquestionably in the situation in your community and that of the city of New York. No doubt about it.
Mr. RICKBEIL. Farmers, ranchers, and local sportsmen depend on them as a daily source of supply. It would be tragic to close many of these small local outlets and deprive local people of their source of supply by imposing a discriminatory high license fee that has no clear relation to crime prevention.
If a license fee is necessary, there is no reason why it can't be kept at a reasonable figure. We call your attention to the fact that these small hardware merchants are completely bona fide. The amount of the license fee will have no effect on his qualifications as a bona fide dealer.
We also urge the Congress to take steps to assure that the regulatory agency confine regulations and recordkeeping requirements to the very minimum necessary to accomplish the real objectives of the act. Reg. ulations can be made effective and can easily be followed even by small dealers if they are kept simple and reasonable.
Also, efforts should be made to prevent innocent violations from penalties. A dealer's liability should be limited to cases where he knows or has reasonable cause to believe that a customer is not eligible to buy.
În conclusion, we recommend that any license fee imposed on dealers selling firearms and ammunition should be $10 or less. Limitation by the Federal Government on the rights of legitimate and responsible people to purchase and own a gun should be kept to the minimum which is absolutely necessary to carry out the objectives set forth in the Presi. dent's message. Regulations including those governing sales to minors and those governing interstate and mail-order sales should be aimed primarily at concealed weapons and other firearms not suitable primarily for sporting purposes.
We appreciate this opportunity to present these views to your committee. We give you assurance of our desire to cooperate with any law enforcement agencies and with your committee in accomplishing the objectives that we all agree should be achieved.
Senator Dodd. I am grateful to you, Mr. Rickbeil. You know, one of the problems we have had in trying to legislate this bill arises out of the fact that some stores like yours are located very close to big metropolitan centers. I am sure you are not aware of it but we had testimony here about one such store a few miles, I don't know how many miles from Washington-right at the District line where 40 percent of their sales of guns were to criminals.
You see, this is a real problem. There is a pattern of this all over the country. I am sure this isn't so in your store, I know it isn't so. But it is awfully hard to write legislation, sectionally, to say if there is a hardware store near a metropolitan center
Mr. Mashaw. Mr. Chairman, as you get the gist of our statement, our primary objection to an area of this law is this licensing fee.
Senator Dodd. Yes, I think it is too high.
Mr. Mashaw. It is not going to mean these stores would go out of business, they would go out of guns and ammo business.
Senator Dodd. We are going to do something about that.
Mr, Mashaw (continuing). We find difficulty in seeing-if a store wanted to set himself up as a front like you speak of there, as a supplier for disreputable folks, whether it is a hundred dollars or sio really isn't going to make a difference.
Senator Dodd. No; I quite agree. I don't think we have any difference over that point of view.
Mr. MASHAW. I know from experience in talking to other elements that this hundred-dollar fee would tend to bigness and outlets and thus is bad so far as our folks are concerned.
Senator Dopp. I agree with you. I think you have a very good point.
Mr. RICKBEIL. I think it might be helpful if the manufacturers could put the model number and serial number of every gun in the
same location. Many guns don't have a serial number. They have just a model number.
Senator Dodd. I know.
Senator Dodd. Not a bad idea. I am a little bit distressed about the 53 percent opposing the sale to minors. You know the bill actually permits the sale of rifles and shotguns to persons over 18, and the prohibition is really on the sale of handguns.
Mr. MASHAW. I wonder what the results would have been if we polled the mothers of the land.
Senator Dodd. I think it would have been different. [Laughter.]
Well, gentlemen, I am very grateful for your testimony. It is constructive and it is valuable, and we will certainly bear it most importantly in mind. I have a high opinion of the hardware industry. I know them where I live. They are good people. There is no one on this committee who is trying to
Mr. MASHAW. I don't think you will find any type of merchant to be more cooperative. Our biggest problem is keeping security, to keep them from breaking the windows to get the guns out.
Senator Dodd. There is one business I wanted to be in, I always said I wanted to own a hardware store.
Mr. MASHAW. Don't retire to it. It is awfully hard work.
Mr. RICKBEIL. Mr. Mashaw was with the FBI before he came with the hardware association.
Senator Dopp. I didn't know that but I could tell he was a very bright man.
Mr. Dennis, we have a time problem and I don't want to be restrictive on you but I know-we want to hear your testimony. I wondered if, would it be possible, would it be acceptable, to put your statement in, have it printed.
I have read it and we will all read it, without having you read it here formally, would that make any real difference to you?
STATEMENT OF ROBERT T. DENNIS, ASSISTANT CONSERVATION
DIRECTOR OF THE IZAAK WALTON LEAGUE OF AMERICA
Mr. DENNIS. Would there be time for me to brief it here this morning ?
Senator DODD. To do what?
Senator Dodd. Yes, if you could do it briefly. It would help me if you could. I have a committee meeting that I promised to attend. I don't want to cut you down, that is not my purpose at all. You represent a very important organization and you are certainly entitled: to a full hearing.
Can you brief it? If you want to—are you located in Washington ? Mr. DENNIS. Yes, sir.
Senator Dopp. Or you could come back, you know, and take all the time you want next week. I will do anything you want to do. We ran a little longer than we anticipated.
Mr. DENNIS. I have been scheduled on this four times.