ATF Accused of Perverting Laws in a Scheme to Shut Down Gun Shops

A Texas gun shop owner is suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives over a new policy used to revoke firearm dealers’ licenses over small clerical errors in paperwork for gun sales, which the lawsuit says is a violation of federal gun laws.

The lawsuit accuses the ATF of misusing the 1968 Gun Control Act, which regulates gun sales by focusing on inadvertent errors — such as mistaking “county” for “country” on the firearm transaction Form 4473, which has 100 data points — as a pretext to close down gun shops.

“The administration has begun revoking licenses based on a handful of these inadvertent mistakes among thousands of Form 4473s that do not result in criminals or prohibited possessors obtaining guns. There’s just one problem: The administration’s enforcement policy ignores the text of the Gun Control Act,” said Nate Curtisi, an attorney for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is backing the litigation.

Michael Cargill, a firearms dealer who owns Central Texas Gun Works in Austin, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation brought the lawsuit in federal court in Texas.

They say it is new, heavy-handed enforcement designed to revoke firearms dealer licenses and shut down gun shops. According to the lawsuit, the new policy under President Biden’s team at ATF has turned longtime record-keeping requirements that are supposed to prevent criminals and other dangerous people from buying guns into a weapon against the industry.

“The act allows the federal government to revoke gun dealers’ license to sell firearms — commonly called federal firearms licenses or FFLs — when dealers willfully violate federal or state gun laws,” Mr. Curtisi said.

In a statement to The Washington Times, the ATF said it would not comment on specific litigation but defended the agency’s use of the Gun Control Act.

An ATF spokesman maintained that the agency can revoke a license only for “willful violations” of the Gun Control Act.

“The GCA does not define ‘willful,’” the spokesman said, citing a statement from its website. “Federal courts have held that a willful violation of the GCA’s regulations occurs when the FFL commits the violation with an intentional disregard of a known legal duty or with plain indifference to their legal obligations.”

The ATF lists nine reasons for revocation of an FFL license, which include:

• Transferring a firearm to a prohibited person.

• Failing to conduct a required background check.

• Falsifying records, such as a firearms transaction form.

• Failing to respond to a trace request.

• Refusing to permit ATF to conduct an inspection.

Other willful violations that may result in the issuance of a notice of revocation include failure to account for firearms, verify and document buyer eligibility, maintain records needed for successful firearms tracing and report multiple sales of handguns.

In August, The Times reported that in late 2021 an ATF inspector took photos of a Mesa, Arizona, gun shop’s acquisitions and dispositions or A&D books, which are detailed logs of all guns sold at the shop including the identities of buyers. Similar to the allegations in the new lawsuit, the inspector claimed to have seen some clerical errors the store owner believed to be minor.

“We noticed that she was taking pictures of everything,” said Dave Nagel, owner of Black Metal Firearms in Mesa, Arizona. “We asked her what that was all about.”

He recalled that the ATF inspector said, “It’s within the scope of my investigation.”

In June of last year, the Biden administration announced it would begin enforcing the Gun Control Act of 1968 differently by cracking down on firearms dealers that failed to live up to their obligations under state law.

The White House gave ATF inspection data to the 16 states with those states’ inspection systems could become “force multipliers in protecting public safety.”

By July 2021, the administration expected the ATF to begin using the inspection data to potentially shut down dealers deemed to be breaking state gun laws.

One year later, Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Georgia Republican and gun business owner, called out the ATF for revoking or denying FFL license renewals at a rate of about 500% greater than before Mr. Biden became president.

At the time, the ATF gave the same defense of its authority to revoke licenses for “willful violations” of the Gun Control Act.

Reporting by The Washington Times.