When I visited the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) National Tracing Center, located in Martinsburg, W.Va., during the Obama administration, records listing the names of people who bought guns and what guns they purchased were piled along the corridors of the building and stacked head-high in 13 tractor-trailer-sized steel containers out back. Between the stacks of records of gun sales were rooms filled with people scanning the documents.
The Obama administration had invited reporters there to push a narrative that they needed more money and resources to scan the documents. The program manager with the ATF leading the press tour also emphasized that they wanted changes in federal law so they could get and digitize more records to create a database of gun sales—and then, of gun owners.
Now the Biden administration is reportedly scanning these documents like mad—records obtained by gun-rights advocates show that in 2021 the ATF processed at least 54 million of them.
The records are the form 4473s that people fill out when they want to purchase a gun. By law, dealers must maintain these records for 20 years. If a firearms dealer goes out of business, they must send their last 20 years of records to the National Tracing Center. It was these records that I saw piled up in the building.
Under this system, over a million of these records are sent to the ATF each month.
Now, ATF proposed rule 2021R-05 would make this record-keeping requirement more burdensome for gun dealers and diminish gun-owner privacy. Under the proposed rule, gun dealers would be required to maintain 4473s indefinitely and would have to relinquish all this data to the ATF if they go out of business.
The National Tracing Center could then get closer to creating a firearm registry if anti-gun lawmakers are able to criminalize the private transfer of firearms—something often referred to as “universal background check” legislation. This would push more transfers through licensed gun dealers, which would create more records.
Now, when the ATF invited me to its National Tracing Center—I was a contributor to Forbes at the time—they clearly thought I was a mainstream reporter who would advocate for their desired policy changes. I saw this on the faces of the officials giving the tour as I asked questions.
I asked, for example, if any of the 4473s had come from gun stores the ATF put out of business for making illegal sales. The official said “no” and added that it is “very hard to bust a gun-store owner.”
Actually, it isn’t. ATF agents can inspect gun stores anytime. If a gun from a crime scene can be traced to a gun store, then the agents can investigate the store. But this rarely happens. The ATF’s “Time to Crime” (the amount of time between an original gun sale at a dealer and the time it is found in a crime scene) number for 2019, for example, was 8.29 years.
Nevertheless, like the Obama/Biden administration once did, the Biden/Harris administration clearly wants to treat lawful gun ownership as a problem. President Joe Biden (D) has outright blamed gun stores for arming criminals, even though the data—and, by the way, multiple ATF agents I have interviewed—shows this statistically is not the case. Instead of bringing us together, the Biden/Harris administration seems intent on dividing us.
Gun owners have good reasons to not want the federal government’s noses in their gun safes.