Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California announced that Joshua Ruic Kimball, a federally licensed gun dealer in Bakersfield, California, had been arrested for “selling firearms in bulk without recording transactions through the ATF or complying with state background check or waiting period requirements.” According to the announcement, since 2021, police recovered over 100 firearms from crime scenes in four different states that were traced back to Kimball, including cases of alleged domestic violence and an arrest related to a neo-Nazi bombing campaign.
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Court documents show that Kimball had previously surrendered his Federal Firearms License (FFL) while living in Missouri in November 2021 after failing to respond to crime gun tracing requests because he “no longer had access to the [sales] records.” (Federal law requires gun dealers to respond to tracing requests within 24 hours and maintain transaction records.) Kimball then allegedly transferred an estimated 700 guns from his business inventory to his personal collection, and 102 of those firearms have been recovered during criminal investigations in California, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico since February 2021. The recovered firearms have been tied to at least six separate shootings, and one was recovered from individuals with neo-Nazi and white power paraphernalia that were arrested in connection with a series of Fresno-area bombings.
Nonetheless, in March 2022, Kimball applied for a new FFL — now doing business as “Show Off Sports” — in Bakersfield, California, and was approved in May. Kimball began running a “gun club” trafficking scheme to sell firearms without conducting background checks, reporting multiple sales, or completing transaction forms, as required by federal law. This troubling fact pattern raises the question of why someone who previously surrendered their FFL in one state would be able to set up shop so quickly in another state.
Included in the filing was a list of 66 of the crime gun traces which allegedly linked back to Kimball. In nearly 40 percent of those incidents, the firearm that traced back to Kimball had been found in possession of a convicted felon. Half a dozen of the firearms were recovered during an arrest for an incident of domestic violence, and half a dozen were recovered during an arrest involving a gun that had been fired. One individual, referred to as H.K. in the complaint, was even arrested on two separate occasions more than a year apart carrying different illegal guns allegedly traced to Kimball. According to the complaint in Kimball’s case, during the second investigation, “H.K.’s downstairs neighbor called the police for a bullet fragment she found in her kitchen.”
One of the most disturbing cases was that of “S.B.,” who was arrested along with others “for a series of bombings that occurred in the Fresno Area.” S.B., who was allegedly a member of the white supremacist Fresneck gang, was at the time in possession of a pistol that was traced back to Kimball. The description in the filing appears to match the case of Steven Burkett, who was arrested in February 2023 alongside his associate, Scott Anderson, a man who had alleged ties to a white supremacist group that the Los Angeles Times reported had been accused of “deploying explosives inside and under…vehicles on six different occasions.”
“GUN CLUB” SCHEME
In June 2023, Kimball allegedly invited two undercover Fresno Police Department detectives that entered his store to join his club. He noted that after conducting a one-time fingerprint “Live Scan” for the California Department of Justice for $100, and paying a $200 membership fee, members could walk into and out of the shop with any firearms they wanted — including “off-roster firearms,” high-capacity magazines, and silencers that are illegal to own in California — without any further paperwork. Another customer of Kimball’s also mentioned that if one of the detectives had a “muddy” background, or criminal history that would prohibit them from purchasing a firearm, their girlfriend could complete the sales for them — an illegal straw purchase.
Then, in July, two undercover ATF agents met with Kimball at the store and discussed joining the “gun club.” One of the agents purchased seven firearms from Kimball — including a short-barreled Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 rifle, a Beretta M9A4 pistol, and two Dead Air silencers for the weapons — without any background checks or paperwork in October. Not only are short-barreled rifles and silencers illegal in California, with certain exemptions, but since 1934, the National Firearms Act (NFA) has imposed strict registration requirements on those items on the federal level. To own an NFA item, customers must submit applications to the ATF, undergo an enhanced background check, and pay a $200 tax stamp. Kimball failed to perform any of these steps.
Later that month, Kimball allegedly told one of the undercover ATF agents how to transfer the Anderson short-barreled rifle to a friend in such a way to avoid NFA requirements.
This fact pattern demonstrates the risk of diversion of guns to the criminal market when gun stores, and gun sellers, skirt the law and don’t take their responsibilities under the law seriously. It also demonstrates the importance of robust enforcement of the law by the ATF, the regulator of the gun industry. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, “If convicted, Kimball faces a maximum statutory penalty of 15 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine for trafficking in firearms; 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for unlawfully trafficking in controlled firearms; and five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for unlawfully trafficking in firearms in violation of state law.”