President Joe Biden is overzealously targeting firearm retailers to drive them out of business. Federal firearm license revocations for retailers have increased 500 from previous years. That’s got gun control groups excited, but it is casting a pall over the cooperative relationship firearm retailers maintain with law enforcement.
President Biden never hid the fact that he intended to use the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to drive his gun control agenda. He campaigned on a platform of targeting the firearm industry instead of focusing on criminals.
“Our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the NRA, the gun manufacturers,” President Biden said from the presidential campaign debate stage.
That hostility produced a platform that turned the ATF from the bureau that regulates the firearm industry and enforces federal gun laws into the hammer and anvil by which the Biden administration is pummeling flat firearm retailers. Instead of compliance inspections by ATF Industry Operations Investigators to work to ensure firearm retailers remain within federal firearm regulations, those inspections are now driving firearm retailers out of business.
Lee Williams, an independent investigative reporter specializing in covering firearms, revealed that ATF once revoked the licenses of federal firearms licensees (FFLs) at a rate of about 40 each year. “But, in the 11 months since Joe Biden declared war on ‘rogue gun dealers,’ the ATF has revoked 273 FFLs — an increase of more than 500%,” Williams reported. “However, rather than targeting the true rogues, Biden’s ATF is revoking FFLs for the most minor of paperwork errors, which were never a concern for the ATF until Biden weaponized the agency.”
That’s due to the Biden administration’s “zero tolerance” inspection policy. That means inspectors are revoking federal firearms licenses for even minor clerical errors that previously would warrant a warning letter.
ATF has the authority to revoke licenses for even these minor clerical errors but used to be more interested in compliance. That changed under the Biden administration and the Department of Justice (DOJ) led by Attorney General Merrick Garland. National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is providing retailers with guidance to be prepared for these inspections.
The White House budget request clearly identified that driving gun stores out of business was a higher priority than pursuing criminals. President Biden proposed earlier this year to spend $20.6 billion on the Justice Department for federal law enforcement, crime prevention, and intervention.
Tucked into that spending proposal were plans for the ATF to hire 140 special agents and another 160 Industry Operations Investigators. That’s more inspectors to revoke licenses than special agents to actually lock up criminals. The Biden administration refuses to get tough on crime but is zealous in targeting the firearm industry.
Thomas Brandon, former ATF acting director, told USA Today that the goal of inspections is to get dealers compliant, not to penalize them. “The high majority of FFLs are good hardworking people running businesses, and they’re our front-line of defense for intelligence for diversion of firearms with straw purchases,” Brandon said, referring to when someone attempts to purchase a firearm for someone else who can’t.
The firearm industry absolutely wants firearm retailers that flout the law to be held accountable, but addressing the rare instances of criminal activity at the gun counter neglects the larger problem of criminal misuse of firearms. Indeed, that policy of targeting “rogue gun dealers” could have unintended consequences.
Firearm retailers willingly cooperate with ATF special agents on suspect attempts to purchase firearms. They are often the ones providing tips to special agents on suspected straw purchases. Now, those same retailers are forced to consider the consequences of inviting ATF into their retail locations. When a potential tip to criminal activity by a random person wandering into their store could result in a business owner losing a license and income, that threatens the ability of the ATF to enforce the law.
That’s got special agents in the field concerned. Agents in ATF field offices who chose to remain anonymous have told NSSF the “zero tolerance” policy will do more harm than good. It will dry up their most valuable source of intelligence on criminal activity — the local gun store owner who wants criminals to be locked up.
Now, owners are forced to consider the unintended consequences of trying to do the right thing. Tips of suspect activity could lead to an inspection and a misplaced entry in a record book could put that gun store owner out of business.
There’s little reason to believe the policies will be reversed. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee questioned President Biden’s nominee to become ATF director, Steve Dettelbach, in a confirmation hearing last week. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) confronted Dettelbach about the “zero tolerance” policy and the Biden administration’s policy of rooting out “rogue dealers.” Dettelbach demurred on defining a “rogue dealer,” adding only that federal firearm license revocations should be reserved for “willful violations” and not “inadvertent errors.”
“The key to enforcement programs, it has to be fair, it has to be consistent, and it has to be effective,” Dettelbach told Sen. Grassley. The Biden administration’s “zero tolerance” policy to decimate firearm retailers is proving to be counterproductive.
Mark Oliva is managing director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition industries.