LITTLETON — Federal authorities have launched a sweeping review of more than 80 gun vendors operating at an old mill building in Littleton, just two weeks after one was charged with illegally selling handguns to a man police believe is connected to gang shootings in Boston.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives this week deployed 29 inspectors to the mill, which is home to the largest cluster of federally licensed gun vendors at a single address in the nation. Ten of the inspectors came from ATF’s “Major Inspection Team,” a group of senior agents from across the country.
The ATF sweep came months after residents and local politicians first demanded greater scrutiny of the burgeoning gun hub in light of a Globe investigation that found many dealers there were openly exploiting loopholes in state gun laws and violating then-attorney general Maura Healey’s directives on the state’s assault weapons ban.
The deployment of the Major Inspection Team “shows a level of agreement at headquarters that there is a need to conduct widespread compliance inspections at this cluster” of gun vendors, said Joshua Scharff, general counsel and director of programs at Brady, a gun control advocacy group.
James Ferguson, the ATF special agent in charge of the Boston Field Division, said his agents normally inspect the mill, but with so many gun vendors now operating there, the Major Inspection Team “enables us to ensure compliance in a concentrated area without impacting ongoing efforts throughout the six New England states in our area of operations.”
The mass inspection, which began on Monday, is expected to be completed by the end of next week, said ATF spokesperson Lena Lopez. She stressed that the inspections “are not criminal investigations.”
The number of gun businesses operating from the mill has grown rapidly from just five in 2014 to 83 this year. They reported to the state selling 4,600 firearms in 2022. Many residents were unaware of the number of gun vendors there until the Globe investigation.
In August, Littleton Police Chief Matthew Pinard told the Globe the ATF’s Boston Field Division did a mill-wide inspection in 2019, and were planning another one that September or October.
But the ATF hadn’t done its promised sweep by Oct. 27, when federal prosecutors say mill dealer Cory Daigle, 28, of Revere, illegally sold three Glock pistols to a straw buyer, Shakim Grant, knowing they were really going to Gustavo Rodriguez, 19, of Hyde Park, who did not have a license to carry firearms.
The three men were charged with conspiracy in federal court in January. Daigle was also charged with unlawful possession of machine guns. In an affidavit, an ATF agent said 95 guns were found during a search of Daigle’s apartment in Revere, “scattered throughout the house and seemingly in no order.” Roughly half the guns were included on his business inventory, the agent said, suggesting that Daigle mostly used the Littleton Mill as a business address, while doing sales from his home, in violation of state law.
Boston police found two of the Glocks and an empty gun box with the serial number of the third Glock that Daigle sold during a search of Rodriguez’s home on Nov. 7, following a suspected gang-related shooting in which Rodriguez and two others were wounded.
Under Massachusetts law, gun dealers can only sell Glocks to members of law enforcement. Prosecutors say Daigle attempted to skirt the law by selling the frames and slides of the Glocks separately, since Massachusetts law only regulates guns that are capable of firing bullets.
Lopez said as of Thursday that nearly half of the vendors at the mill had been inspected, but that the results of the agency’s inspections would only be available by filing a public records request.
Senator Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat whose district includes Littleton, said he’s been pushing for state or federal officials to assist Littleton with inspections since the Globe published its investigation in September, adding that he’s grateful the ATF has finally stepped in.
Eldridge estimated that 50 Littleton residents have reached out to him with concerns about the large number of gun dealers at the mill. They “want to know what is being done . . . to keep Littleton residents safe, to close loopholes, and make sure that every gun dealer in Massachusetts is thoroughly inspected on a regular basis,” he said.
The charges against Daigle are a rarity, marking perhaps the third case in which a Massachusetts gun dealer has been federally charged with violating gun laws since 2015, based on a list of cases provided by a spokesperson for the Massachusetts US attorney’s office.
“It’s something that frankly we need to have more of,” said Scharff of the Brady organization, adding that he’s encouraged by the stepped-up enforcement in Littleton, following President Biden’s executive orders in 2021 that emphasized the need for ATF to be tougher on the gun industry.
The gun vendors themselves seemed to be taking the massive federal law enforcement presence in stride.
“This is a normal compliance inspection. Our last one was roughly three years ago [so] we’re due about now,” said Jim Finnerty, the owner of MassReloading.com, which teaches gun safety classes, and the master lease holder to roughly half the vendors at the mill.
Another dealer who was inspected this week said he welcomes the scrutiny because it keeps everyone in compliance.
The dealer, who asked not to be named for fear of professional repercussions, said that between eight and 10 ATF inspectors were in his shop.
“There were two doing inventory, at least six checking the paperwork, a couple of supervisors that were coming in and out, and a couple of technical people [who are experts on weapon types] coming in and out,” the dealer said. “They were extremely thorough.”
Globe photographer John Tlumacki contributed to this story.
Sarah Ryley can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MissRyley.