Inside the War on Gun Stores

Since the beginning of the Biden administration, the number of Federal Firearms Licensees has gone down by 1,600.

by
posted on June 29, 2023
gun store
Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP

When President Joe Biden (D) gave a speech in Monterey Park, Calif., back in March announcing his latest executive order on guns, much of the mainstream media went along with the administration’s spin that this order would do something about violent crime.

“Biden Issues Executive Order to Expand Background Checks For Gun Purchases,” read a Reuters headline. Even Fox News went along with the talking point: “Biden Announces Executive Order To Expand Gun Background Checks.”

In reality, Biden doesn’t have the authority to “expand” background checks. (More on that later.) What the latest executive order actually did was direct various federal agencies to make life as difficult as possible for firearms dealers, as Biden knows that making it more difficult for retailers to sell guns makes it more difficult for law-abiding Americans like you and me to buy them.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden is shown here signing a gun-control bill.

Focusing On Dealers
“The Biden administration said that they would use the ATF as a bludgeon against the industry, and that’s in fact what they are trying to do,” said Mark Oliva, NSSF managing director for public affairs. “They are turning the agency that is charged with regulating the firearm industry—the manufacturers, the distributors, the retailers—and using the levers of that regulatory agency as a means to shut down and deny people their Second Amendment rights.”

Since taking office in January 2021, Biden has continually blamed gun dealers for the actions of criminals, though criminals almost always use illegally obtained and carried guns. Later in 2021, Biden announced a new “zero-tolerance policy for rogue gun dealers that willfully violate the law.” The policy further specified that “absent extraordinary circumstances that would need to be justified to the director, ATF will seek to revoke the licenses of dealers the first time that they violate federal law ... .”

Of course, such dishonest dealers—and there are perhaps a few—are already dealt with quite harshly; they typically lose their licenses and often face prosecution. As the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) pointed out at the time, despite changing decades of agency practice regarding when license revocation is appropriate, the new policy was never made available to the public for comment or published in the federal register. It simply appeared on the White House website.

Biden’s new rule was designed to make life harder for those who make a paperwork error here and there—a serial number being transposed or hard to read, for example.

In December of 2021, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) updated its Federal Firearms Licensee Quick Reference and Best Practices Guide. The updated guide made it clear that “ATF will, absent extraordinary circumstances, initiate proceedings to revoke the license of any dealer that has committed a willful regulatory violation of the Gun Control Act (GCA) for specified violations.”

“While some of these may be serious violations that warrant revocation, many will be simple paperwork errors,” NRA-ILA reported. “Notably, ‘falsifying records’ is a very broad category that can include making simple errors on the Form 4473, and ‘failing to respond to a trace request’ could result from simply missing an attempted contact by ATF … . The new ‘zero-tolerance’ policy has a clear aim of reducing the number of federally licensed dealers, which will in turn make it more difficult for law-abiding Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

What’s the result of Biden’s constant drumbeat of propaganda and executive actions against America’s firearms retailers? According to ATF figures, as of April 2023, there were 1,619 fewer licensed firearms dealers than there were when Biden took office in January 2021.

Additionally, ATF records indicate revocations jumped sharply after the Biden order. In January 2022, out of 470 audits performed, there were only three license revocations. A year later, there were 678 (44% more) inspections and 17 revocations—about six times the number of revocations from the previous January.

police crime sceneReal People, Real Persecution
It’s easy to fall into the trap of calling those who sell firearms “FFLs” or “gun dealers” without realizing that they are also lawful Americans simply trying to make a living, care for their families and keep their head above water in Biden’s troubled economy. They have hopes and dreams like any other American, yet the president lumps them into a category of “rogue gun dealers,” as if they were handing out guns with no questions asked in downtown Chicago.

While many readers might think of big-box stores when they consider licensed firearms dealers, most are actually smaller, mom-and-pop-type operations.

Brian Brinkley is a good example of what can happen when Biden’s zero-tolerance policy pushes ATF agents into revoking the licenses of small retailers. Brinkley, owner of SCB Guns and Ammo in Thomasville, N.C., recently had his license revoked over an infraction that he firmly believes would have previously been handled by an agent simply suggesting how to fix the situation and warning him to not make the same error again.

“Basically, I got screwed over by zero tolerance,” Brinkley told America’s 1st Freedom. “They took my license, my Class III, everything.

“I’ve built this business for 15 years now, and they basically ripped it out from me for one thing. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to have to figure out how to make money because I’ve still got bills to pay.”

Brinkley said he’s sure that the actions taken against him would have been much different if it had occurred before the president’s policy change.

“I will tell you, behind the scenes, the FFL-to-ATF relationship is strained.”—Tyler Oberley

“There is no doubt this all came from Biden’s zero-tolerance policy,” he said. “They’re closing down every FFL they can. He’s saying, ‘If I can’t keep you from buying guns, I’ll keep them from selling you guns.’

“I’ve never sold a gun to a person who shouldn’t have it. I’ve never lost a gun. But they can walk in and say, ‘Zero tolerance. That’s it, you’re done.’”

Retroactive Revocation?
Not only is the ATF revoking licenses for minor paperwork mistakes, but at the direction of the White House, the agency even opened old cases that had been closed after minor paperwork mistakes had been found during audits and the problems were remedied. Tyler Oberley, owner of Joplin Centerfire in Joplin, Mo., is an example of that travesty.

Oberley applied for and got an FFL for his business in 2018. At the end of 2021, he underwent his first ATF compliance audit.

“It went kind of as you would expect,” he said. “We came out of it with some errors but nothing major—no revocations, no laws broken, no fines, no penalties, no nothing other than your standard outcome, which is basically a warning letter, which is what the ATF deems it in the industry, where they break down your paperwork violations and then that’s that.”

Fast-forward a few short months when, in February 2022, Oberley unexpectedly received a letter from the ATF saying that the Department of Justice was revoking his FFL.

“I went from my first audit where I heard things like, ‘Here’s what you did. For as big a business as you have, you did a pretty good job. These mistakes are common. You didn’t have as many as we’ve seen guys your size have, and so on,’” Oberley said. “Then, boom, two months later, ‘We’re going to take your license.’ It was literally just the flip of a switch.

“My ‘revocable’ offenses were not ‘revocable’ offenses for 40 years in the industry until Biden’s zero-tolerance policy. It wasn’t like we were selling multiple handguns to illegal immigrants with no paperwork and got caught. It was literally clerical errors in the paperwork.”

When Oberley attended a hearing in Kansas City, nobody there could give a good answer to the question of why the case had been reopened after it had already been settled the previous fall.

“Literally, the only answer that was provided was one of the IOIs [compliance inspectors] stating, ‘We believe that it was just because of an executive order,’” Oberley said.

A month after the hearing, Oberley finally received a letter via U.S. Mail saying the final decision had been made to not revoke his license. Still, the entire experience left a very bad taste in his mouth.

“With the combination of constant policy changes, types of gun bans, everything they’re doing, it just seems like that ever since Biden came in, it’s just a constant change, a constant new ruling and a constant fear, ‘Is the paperwork right? Are we doing this right?’” he said. “I will tell you, behind the scenes, the FFL-to-ATF relationship is strained. Every night I lie in bed pondering the ATF.”

Steve Dettelbach
ATF Director Steve Dettelbach has blamed gun stores, and guns in general, for what criminals do.

Presidential Powers
Biden has repeatedly said there are certain actions he can’t take unilaterally because he doesn’t have the power to do so; in fact, on March 28, he said, “I have gone the full extent of my executive authority to do on my own anything about guns.” That statement proves that he knows he cannot expand background checks without congressional action, even though he claims to have done so.

Still, Biden continues to use the phrase “rogue gun dealers” in speeches.

“Combined with zero tolerance, this chills the willingness of retailers to work with ATF to report suspicious attempts to purchase firearms and attempts at straw purchases,” said Oliva.

Biden has also forced through new “rules” redefining “firearms,” “receivers” and “frames,” along with redefining braced pistols as “short-barreled rifles” (SBRs). These rulings were so poorly thought out and implemented that they have sown mass confusion among manufacturers, dealers and gun buyers.

As Joplin Centerfire’s Oberley put it, “It just seems like for an FFL, a business owner and someone who is trying to run a legitimate operation, uphold the law and support the Second Amendment, they [the ATF] are not a helpful resource. You will call two or three different ATF resources and ask them all the same question, and you will get two or three different answers.”

Biden has further put the pinch on gun dealers by working with states to try to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). Biden wants firearms manufacturers and retailers to be sued for criminal misuse of their lawfully made and sold products. Most recently, in Washington state, when gun-control-loving Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a punitive semi-automatic ban into law, he also signed another measure to attempt to undercut the PLCAA.

None of This Makes Sense
That brings us back to Biden’s latest executive action that supposedly “expanded background checks,” but actually just put pressure on firearms retailers. Not even one of the “dictates” in that order did anything of significance—other than make life more difficult for firearms retailers. Each item had either already been accomplished or was otherwise nonsensical.

In a time when violent criminals are running rampant in big cities, when gun-free zones are being targeted and when reduced policing has forced lawful Americans to fend for themselves, one would think the “most-powerful man in the world” might try to find some effective ways to make things better. Instead, Biden continues to put much of his efforts into putting good Americans who legally sell firearms onto the unemployment rolls.

As the NRA tweeted after Biden’s latest executive order,  “Crimes are committed by criminals. Until President Biden and his allies decide to go after violent criminals, violence will continue to spiral out of control as it has. The focus of our laws and efforts should be on the criminal element and not on law-abiding Americans.”

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