BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Robert Findlay Smith, a man charged with capital murder in the shooting death of three people inside an Alabama church, still holds an active federal license to deal firearms, records show.
According to a database of license-holders run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Smith’s type one firearms dealers’ license remains active and will not expire until 2025.
Smith is accused of opening fire at a potluck held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in June, killing three individuals – Walter Rainey, 84, of Irondale; Sarah Yeager, 75, of Pelham; and an 84-year-old woman whose family asked that her name be withheld.
Joshua Scharff, senior counsel and director of programs at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that holding a federal firearms license is a privilege and that Smith’s active license – despite the serious charges against him – deserves close scrutiny.
“Somebody who is credibly accused of using firearms to kill and injure multiple people should not be entrusted to sell firearms to the public,” Scharff said.
Smith operated as a dealer and gunsmith out of his home on Sicard Hollow Road in Vestavia Hills, federal records show, purchasing used and damaged firearms from local dealers. Smith would repair the firearms and then sell them at gun shows, auctions, or online, according to an ATF report.
ATF officials conducted inspections of Smith’s gun dealership, called Original Magazines 2, at least three times in past years, records show, and on each occasion, they determined Smith to be in violation of federal gun laws. At one point, ATF officials chose not to revoke Smith’s license despite a determination that Smith’s violations of gun laws and regulations were serious enough to warrant such an action.
Records show Smith was investigated for more than a month in 2009, resulting in ATF citing the dealer for 2 violations and issuing him a warning letter.
In 2011, federal law enforcement inspected Smith’s operation again, this time citing eight violations, according to an ATF report. Inspectors determined that Smith had violated rules about record-keeping, transferring guns to others, conducting and recording the results of background checks, and logging sales of multiple guns. The violations were serious enough to allow the law enforcement agency to revoke Smith’s license, but the agency chose not to do so, instead opting for a “warning conference in lieu of revocation.”
A few years later, in 2017, another ATF inspection revealed three more violations of gun law. The agency sent Smith another warning letter, outlining that during the inspection, Smith had 86 firearms on hand, compared to 97 listed in his records. Smith responded to inspectors’ questions about the discrepancies with excuses, records show.
“I have been sick and must have forgotten,” Smith told an inspector asking about his failure to record a gun transfer.
“I will find it eventually,” Smith told ATF inspectors asking about missing firearms.
Joshua Scharff with the Brady campaign said that firearms dealers are “gatekeepers,” the last line of defense prevents firearms from getting into the hands of those that cannot legally possess them.
“So it’s very disconcerting when someone who does have a license to sell firearms is that very person who intends to use them and misuse them for criminal purposes in a way that kills fellow Americans,” Scharff said.
Scharff said that Smith’s history with the ATF is “troubling.”
“In order to reduce gun violence in this country, we need a strong system that ensures that the most responsible folks are able to get federal firearms licenses,” he said. “And those that are unable or unwilling to comply with the federal firearms laws in this country should not have the privilege to sell firearms to the public.”
CBS 42 reached out to ATF for comment on this story but has not yet heard back.