- In 2022, Federal Firearm License (FFL) revocations hit a 16-year high after the Biden administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for gun dealers.
- The increase in license revocations, 92 in 2022 alone, is due to the new policy and the updated procedure that the ATF follows, as they no longer always go through a multi-step process, often opting to pull licenses for a multitude of “willful” violations.
- “That’s not how regulatory agencies are supposed to work in the sector that they’re supposed to regulate. They are supposed to help the companies, they’re supposed to ensure compliance but they’re not supposed to punish and destroy an entire industry based on just political opposition or political distaste,” Gun Owners of America Director of Federal Affairs Aidan Johnston told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Gun stores are closing at rapid rates after the Biden administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy for gun dealers and added updated language to define what can be classified as a “willful” violation, leaving Federal Firearm License (FFL) revocations at a 16-year high, according to Second Amendment advocacy group Gun Owners of America (GOA).
The increase in FFL revocations is due, in part, to language and administrative changes within the ATF, as the prior guidance said that the ATF “may” revoke FFls while the new “zero tolerance” policy says that the ATF “will” revoke FFLs for initial violations. The increase in license revocations, 92 in 2022 alone, is also due to the updated procedure that the ATF follows, as they no longer always go through a multi-step process, often opting to pull licenses for a multitude of “willful” violations, according to a GOA fact sheet and leaked documents on the updated policy. (RELATED: The ATF’s Pistol Brace Final Rule Sets The Stage To Classify Legal Gun Owners As Criminals)
“Back in the day there was a process that they would go through when they discover a mistake or an incorrect record, and it starts with a warning letter. They work with the FFL, and then on second inspection, if they find more mistakes, they’ll do a work conference and actually talk to the FFL. Then, if they still are uncompliant, after that they would do a license revocation hearing,” GOA Director of Federal Affairs Aidan Johnston told the DCNF.
Under the Biden administration’s new policy, the warning letter and conference safeguards are often circumvented, leaving the ATF to pull licenses on the first go-around, Johnston told the DCNF.
“That’s not how regulatory agencies are supposed to work in the sector that they’re supposed to regulate. They are supposed to help the companies, they’re supposed to ensure compliance but they’re not supposed to punish and destroy an entire industry based on just political opposition or political distaste,” Johnston continued.
The 2022 revocations were the highest since 2008, tripled 2021’s revocations and exceeded revocations from years when twice as many gun stores were inspected, according to the fact sheet. The ATF also issued another 136 warning conferences, the steepest penalty inspectors can recommend without revocation.
“The real problem is that under Biden the ATF can’t be trusted to not use the so-called zero tolerance policy to shut down legitimate gun stores. Biden is already illegally using the ATF to redefine what a firearm is without the authorization of Congress to implement his attack on the rights of gun owners,” gun rights advocacy group Second Amendment Foundation founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb told the DCNF.
What’s better than GOA gaining access to private ATF documents? GOA LEAKING private ATF documents!In case you missed it, we blew the lid off the ATF’s new “zero tolerance” policy. pic.twitter.com/jTdFegJWqw
— Gun Owners of America (@GunOwners) February 16, 2023
One store owner, J.C. Harrison, from Johnson City, Tennessee, received a letter from the ATF in April of 2022 notifying him that they had revoked his license, according to NBC affiliate WCYB 5. Harrison appealed the decision, but was denied, saying the action was an “attack on the Second Amendment through the back door.”
Harrison claims that his “violations” were simply clerical errors, including failing to record when weapons were returned after being worked on, according to WCYB 5.
“You’re supposed to do a background check if it exceeds 30 days. It came back good, but it came back 30 days and then the 31st day the customer came to pick the gun up,” Harrison said. The license revocation was “huge” for Harrison, as he was financially dependent on the license.
“My wife and I, this was our sole income, and it’s not anymore,” he said.
“ATF cannot revoke a federal firearms license for ‘clerical errors.’ A federal firearms license can only be revoked for willful violations of the Gun Control Act. The GCA does not define ‘willful,'” ATF Public Affairs Division Deputy Chief Erik Longnecker told the DCNF. “The federal courts, however, have held that a willful violation of the GCA’s regulations occurs when the federal firearms licensee commits the violation with an intentional disregard of a known legal duty or with plain indifference to their legal obligations.”
Alongside an updated policy, the ATF also updated their guidelines as to what constitutes a “willful” violation in 2022, according to a leaked internal ATF guidance. The original guidelines designated “willful” mistakes as a continued pattern of mistakes left unaddressed, but the new guidelines are more open-ended for inspectors.
“If you have a clear record, if you don’t make any mistakes for a long period of time, and then you make a first one, that first one is evidence that it was a willful violation, because you knew how to follow the law before and you must have chosen to not follow on that first occasion,” Johnston told the DCNF.
2022 ATF O.5370.1E Federal Firearms Administrative Action Policy Procedures by Daily Caller News Foundation on Scribd
The updated guidance shows that the “ATF must establish willfulness to proceed with revocation,” but the agency “does not have to establish a history of prior violations to determine willfulness,” according to the leaked document.
“While relatively few licensees engage in such conduct, the negative effect that willful violations have on public safety can be immense. Consequently, the courts have also held that a single willful violation of a GCA regulation is a sufficient basis for ATF to revoke a federal firearms license,” Longnecker told the DCNF.
The number of revocations jumped in 2022, but in the initial months of the “zero tolerance” policy, the ATF also began to revisit closed cases and retroactively revoke licenses, Johnston said.
“After a gun store receives a warning conference, and you rectify your mistake, then you should be good. But the ATF, once the Biden administration announced zero tolerance, they went back and pulled all the people who received warning conferences, and then started reopening those cases and investigating them to punish them with zero tolerance,” Johnston told the DCNF.
Amidst concerns in the gun community that the ATF’s “zero tolerance” policy was being abused, a coalition of Republican lawmakers sent a letter demanding the DOJ and the ATF turn over communications about how the legal definition of “willful” is being used to revoke FFLs from gun dealers.
“The Biden-Harris Administration claims this policy will increase public safety and reduce crime. But revoking a FFL over minor paperwork issues turns a teachable moment into the end of a dealer’s livelihood. This new policy runs counter to the close working relationship firearm dealers have had with ATF for decades,” the letter says.
(DAILY CALLER OBTAINED) — … by Henry Rodgers
The Biden administration has until March 1 to turn over the appropriate information, according to the letter.
“If you go back prior to the election we warned that both vice president Harris and Biden were going to use the ATF as a sledgehammer against the industry to do this. They promised they would do this, and they’re doing it. So none of this is a surprise to us. It is exactly what they said they would do and they’re doing it,” The Firearm Industry Trade Association (NSSF) Managing Director of Public Affairs Mark Oliva told the DCNF.
“We’ve been calling to the attention of lawmakers that this is an overzealous use of a law enforcement function to run out this industry. It’s actually harmful and denigrates the ability for them to go after true criminals who are perpetrating crimes in the community,” Oliva continued.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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