In a case prosecutors say highlights weaknesses in the nation's gun laws, a South Carolina man admitted Wednesday he sold dozens of powerful military-style rifles at gun shows and in a hotel parking lot without any paperwork or background checks.
Michael A. Beas of Greer, S.C., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Charlotte to a single felony count of dealing firearms without a license.
Prosecutors say a Charlotte gun store owner alerted federal officials in August after Beas legally purchased 13 semi-automatic AK-47 rifles over the Internet.
Confronted by federal agents when he came to pick up the rifles, Beas admitted selling high-powered weapons at gun shows in the Carolinas and Georgia, as well as in deals carried out in the parking lot Red Roof Inn. He said he didn't bother to track who bought the guns, according to court records.
Among the items Beas admitted selling are key components needed to assemble .50-caliber sniper rifles that fire ammunition capable of piercing more than an inch of steel armor. A skilled marksman using such a rifle can hit a human-sized target at distances of up to 1 mile.
Beas, 33, didn't have any prior felony convictions. Therefore, under current federal law, it was legal for him to buy as many of the powerful firearms as he wanted.
He could also legally sell the weapons as a private individual without conducting the background checks intended to block buyers with mental illnesses, felony convictions or an active domestic violence protective order against them.
Where Beas ran afoul of the law, according to prosecutors, was operating a business selling guns without the required federal dealer's license.
Prosecutors admit Beas would have likely have avoided detection had it not been for the alarm raised by the suspicious staff at the gun store. The only way for authorities to track sales of multiple rifles and shotguns to an individual is to go from store to store and review reams of paper forms.
"Gun trafficking cases are difficult to prosecute in part because there are no reporting requirement for the multiple purchase of long guns, including assault rifles both from licensed dealers and at gun shows," said Anne Tompkins, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
Beas faces a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison. As part of his plea agreement, Beas also agreed to surrender the 13 AK-47s and one .50 caliber sniper rifle.
Most of the new guns Beas sold would have been illegal for him to purchase under the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. A bill to renew the ban introduced following December's mass killing of schoolchildren and teachers in Newtown, Conn., is now under consideration in Congress.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck