A group of 20 U.S. senators sent a scathing letter to the U.S. attorney general and the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) outlining what the senators call enforcement of “secret guidance” concerning so-called forced reset triggers (FRTs) and devices the agency claims are suppressor “parts kits.”
The March 11 letter, addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and ATF Acting Director Marvin Richardson, outlines what the senators refer to as a “continued pattern of enforcing secret guidance” related to certain areas under ATF’s purview. The senators also accuse the agency of intentionally concealing internal “guidance” documents from American gun owners and the firearms industry. The letter contained nearly a dozen footnotes documenting their charges.
“Our government, including the ATF, has a duty to inform Americans what they must do to comply with federal law, especially when the conduct involves the exercise of an enumerated constitutional right and violations could result in a penalty of up to 10 years in prison,” the letter states. “With this attempted secret regulation, the ATF shows an abject disregard for the fundamental principles of due process and accountable governance.
“Federal agencies cannot enforce the law in this manner.”
According to the senators, recent letters sent by the ATF make “blanket threats” based on the “recipient allegedly purchasing and possessing various firearms accessories, none of which are illegal based on any statute or regulation.”
“In the letters, the ATF claims—without offering any explanation as to why—that popular item (sic) known as ‘solvent traps’ and ‘forced reset triggers’ (FRT) are unregistered silencers and machine guns, respectively, and therefore subject to regulation under the National Firearms Act (NFA), 26, U.S.C. §§5801-5872,” the letter states. “One such letter threatens that ‘possession of any of the unregistered silencer devices could result in prosecution for criminal violation of Federal law’ and instructs recipients to contact their local ATF field office within 30 days to ‘coordinate the abandonment of any silencers.’”
Along with the letters, the senators raise the issue of an internal ATF email ordering “agents to search out and demand ‘voluntary’ surrender of two models of forced reset triggers,” and even referring to those in possession of those items as “defendants.” The January 26 email instructed, “If the manufacturer/seller refuses to abandon the items, please take custody of the items, and seize them for forfeiture.”
“Despite the significant criminal consequences attached to the unlawful manufacture, sale and possession of NFA items, ATF has never issued any public guidance differentiating a silencer from a solvent trap, or informing the public that it considers certain forced reset triggers to be machine guns,” the senators wrote.
Additionally, the letter reveals that the ATF has formulated secret internal guidance documents “to assist ATF personnel tasked with differentiating so-called ‘solvent-traps’ from firearm silencers” and to assist “with identifying certain machinegun conversion devices commonly referred to as” FRTs. These documents contain summaries of the standards that the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division purportedly uses to classify items.
“Disturbingly, ATF made these documents available only to those tasked with enforcing the law, rather than those who strive to comply with it,” the letter states. “Indeed, ATF marked these documents as ‘Law Enforcement Sensitive’ to conceal them from the firearms industry and the American public.
“We find the ATF’s attempt to conceal its interpretations of the law disturbing. In a free society, ‘Every citizen is presumed to know the law.’ Thus, as the Supreme Court has said, ‘it needs no argument to show that all should have free access to [the law’s] contents,’ including, in addition to the text of a statute, to those materials which constitute ‘the authentic exposition and interpretation of the law.’”
Following those strong allegations, the senators demanded that the ATF provide them with a number of documents, internal directives and agency guidance concerning solvent traps and forced reset triggers. They also demanded an explanation as to how these bulletins are used by law enforcement, as well as an explanation as to why documents with similar guidance have not been made available to the public.
The letter concludes with senators reminding the attorney general and ATF director that Congress makes the laws. ATF’s job is simply to enforce those laws.
“The ATF is charged by law with enforcing the nation’s federal firearms laws and providing regulatory oversight of the firearms industry,” the senators stated. “ATF simply has no authority to conceal public guidance and then enforce it on unsuspecting Americans. The ATF must issue only those regulations authorized by Congress, provide notice of the proposed regulations, and then provide the American people with an opportunity to comment before a new rule goes into effect.”
The 20 U.S. senators signing the letter were all Republicans, and included: Mike Lee, Utah; James E. Risch and Mike Crapo, Idaho; Thom Tillis, North Carolina; Rick Scott, Florida; Cynthia M. Lummis, Wyoming; Mike Braun, Indiana; Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi; Marsha Blackburn and Bill Haggerty, Tennessee; James Lankford, Oklahoma; Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven, North Dakota; John Boozman, Arkansas; Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott, South Carolina; John Barrasso, Wyoming; Chuck Grassley, Iowa; Ben Sasse, Nebraska; and Ted Cruz, Texas.