The Healey administration has launched advanced training courses for police officers on how to inspect gun dealers, following Globe reporting that found hundreds of gun shops across the state had gone years without a police inspection.
In 1998, the Legislature made local police the front line in enforcing state gun laws, as part of a sweeping raft of gun control reforms that included a requirement for annual inspections at gun shops. But many police officials said they had no idea they were supposed to do the inspections until the Globe contacted them last fall.
As a result, at least 235 dealers that had reported 356,000 in-state sales since 2017 had been operating with no oversight from local law enforcement.
“Despite our Commonwealth’s strong gun laws, illegal gun trafficking remains a threat to public health,” Governor Maura Healey said in a statement. She added that the courses will teach local authorities “to conduct timely and comprehensive compliance inspections” of the state’s 357 active gun dealers.
So far, more than 300 officers have signed up for the training, said Elaine Driscoll, a spokesperson for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which oversees police training academics.
The first class was held on Wednesday, for 60 officers, with four additional classes scheduled through March.
“We anticipate that enrollment will continue to increase,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll said the governor’s office worked closely with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to develop the curriculum in response to a wave of inquiries from police officials about their inspection requirements. Officers will learn inspection techniques, how to recognize common violations of state law, including the sale of assault weapons, and all requirements that dealers must follow.
A Globe investigation last year found that enforcement of the state’s tough gun laws on gun dealers has been nearly nonexistent.
The Globe started sending requests for inspection and enforcement records to 122 police departments across the state last September.
The requests took many departments by surprise. Numerous police officials said they had no idea they were supposed to inspect gun dealers, and many reached out to the state authorities for guidance.
Ultimately, the Globe found 62 of the 112 departments that responded hadn’t inspected a single gun dealer since at least 2017.
Only 16 departments had records of inspecting every dealer every year. The rest either said they did annual inspections but kept no record of them, had just started doing inspections, or did them sporadically.
The Littleton Police Department had been inspecting gun dealers since 2019. But with more than 80 vendors operating out of one labyrinthine old mill — the largest such cluster in the nation — Chief Matthew Pinard said his officers were overwhelmed and needed more guidance from the state.
The importance of more thorough inspections was underscored in January, when federal prosecutors charged Littleton dealer Cory Daigle with conspiracy for allegedly knowingly making straw sales of three Glocks to a suspected Boston gang member. Daigle was also charged with illegal possession of machine guns.
Federal agents found 95 firearms strewn throughout Daigle’s Revere apartment, roughly half of which were part of his business inventory, suggesting he mostly used the Littleton Mill as a business address while doing sales from his home, an ATF special agent said in an affidavit.
On the heels of Daigle’s arrest, the ATF deployed its Major Inspection Team to Littleton to help the bureau’s Boston Field Division inspect every dealer at the mill.
ATF spokesperson Lena Lopez said the inspections are ongoing and the bureau anticipates most will be done within the next few weeks.
On Wednesday, Littleton residents voted 312 to 133 to enact a zoning ordinance that strictly limits where new gun dealers can locate.
Pinard said he welcomes the new state training.
“We are signed up for the March 9th class,” Pinard said. “I think it is fantastic that the Executive Officer of Public Safety saw a deficiency in training and worked with the [training academy] to put a curriculum together in such a timely manner.”
While ATF inspections are typically very thorough, the bureau only gets to each gun dealer, on average, once every eight years, according to Brady, a gun control advocacy group.
State law requires that local police inspect dealers every year, which in theory should assure that they don’t violate the law for too long without getting caught.
The new police training is a first for the state’s Municipal Police Training Committee. Previously, the only course that covered dealer inspections, occasionally, was a biannual firearms course offered by Ron Glidden, a retired police chief and the longtime chair of the state’s Gun Control Advisory Board.
Glidden said he reviewed the state’s new curriculum on inspections in January. “It’s good,” he said. “And if nothing else, it will remind [police] that the law requires them to do them.”
The state attorney general can also investigate and prosecute gun dealers. During Healey’s eight-year tenure, her office reached out-of-court settlements with three dealers, and staffers reached out to dozens more about suspected violations.
Andrea Campbell, who succeeded Healey in January, said she sees a significant role for her office in “gun enforcement, addressing issues of community violence, and making sure that our police chiefs and other stakeholders have the resources, the knowledge, the training to be able to implement our laws.”
Senator Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat whose district includes Littleton, introduced a bill in January that would shift the responsibility for the annual inspections from the local police to the attorney general’s office.
Campbell declined to take a stance on the bill. “But I will say, even absent that legislation, there is a role this office can play in convening folks and having points of contact in the office whose exclusive role and responsibility is to answer questions around gun enforcement,” she said.
Matt Stout and Ivy Scott of the Globe staff contributed reporting.