Alarmed and angered by an increased number of Federal Firearms License (FFL) revocations in recent months, a group of 25 Republican U.S. House of Representatives members sent a letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) asking for some answers.
The letter indicates that the lawmakers believe many FFLs have been revoked for small, clerical errors—mistakes that were mostly sent back for correction before President Joe Biden (D) recently declared war on so-called “rogue gun dealers.”
In fact, the letter accuses the ATF, along with the Biden administration Department of Justice (DOJ), of “undertaking a broad and unprecedented effort to revoke Federal Firearm Licenses (FFLs) from law-abiding business owners throughout the country.”
“In recent months, the number of FFL revocation proceedings initiated by the ATF has skyrocketed and ATF has reportedly adopted an officially sanctioned practice of basing revocations on minor infractions discovered in previously-closed inspections,” said the letter that was penned by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and addressed to Gary Restaino, ATF acting director. “Some have even reported that ATF field divisions are being pitted against each other and forced to compete on the number of licenses revoked. ATF Directors of Industry Operations, who oversee revocation proceedings, are being told to press forward with this escalating quota system or face professional repercussions.”
The representatives signing the letter believe that the bureau’s weaponizing of the system against law-abiding gun dealers who made small, simple paperwork mistakes calls into question the ATF’s legitimacy.
“This commandeering of agency discretion to support the administration’s agenda undermines ATF’s ability to function as a specialized agency and is rapidly destroying the trust and confidence ATF has worked hard to establish with the firearms industry over many decades,” the letter continued. “This is the same trust and confidence that has historically fostered open communications between ATF and members of the industry, resulting in voluntary reporting of criminal or suspicious activity and frank discussions to help improve compliance.”
The letter from lawmakers even detailed a specific instance in which a large firearms dealer was inspected, found to have a few technical or paperwork mistakes out of thousands of transactions, given a warning and then the case was closed by ATF. However, six months later, after Biden’s new “rogue gun dealer” push, the ATF issued the company a notice of revocation, effectively shutting down the business.
“This storm of increased regulator enforcement is directed at the industry as a whole without regard to the personal destruction wrought upon its individual members,” the representatives warned. “In addition to the scores of innocent businesses at threat of being destroyed, we have heard that one licensee died of an anxiety attack within days of receiving his final notice of revocation and another licensee committed suicide during the revocation process.”
It should certainly be of concern if there are cases where FFLs underwent a routine inspection, minor infractions were found, warnings were given and the cases were closed, only to later be reopened because of what may be a change in ATF policy. And that change in policy appears to be that the ATF is simply looking for new excuses to put firearm dealers out of business.
“ATF publicly announced at the April 2022 Firearms Industry Conference that they were in the process of initiating 273 revocation proceedings based on cases that has been closed since as early as July 1, 2021, even when the FFL has had zero compliance infractions since their case was closed,” they wrote. “This pattern, along with the claim that ATF field divisions are competing to revoke licenses, indicates a troubling trend of ATF attacking businesses to advance an anti-gun agenda.”
In the conclusion of the letter, the congressmen presented a number of questions to the ATF acting director. Among the more interesting of those questions were:
- Is there an official or unofficial competition among ATF field divisions related to FFL revocations?
- Has the DOJ or ATF established quotas related to FFL revocations or any other metric related to FFL revocations?
- How many FFLS were revoked by ATF from 2009-2016?
- How many FFLS were revoked by ATF from 2017-2020?
- How many FFLS were revoked by ATF from 2021-present?
The congressmen gave the ATF until July 15 to provide answers.