Did the Obama Justice Department, through ATF, Begin to Establish a National Gun Owners’ Registry?

In early August of this year, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicated ATF “illegally stockpiles gun owners’ personal information.” Under federal law, a federal firearms licensee (FFL) must conduct a criminal records check of a prospective gun purchaser instantly through the National Crime Information Center to determine the buyer’s eligibility to make the purchase. It is the OK purchases that here are in question. The law specifically mandates that ATF destroy these records. Without their destruction, ATF could begin to establish a national gun owners’ registry, something also specifically prohibited by federal law.

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By John M. Snyder | September 19, 2016

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“Abolish ATF,” demand many individual firearms owners as well as gun rights organizations throughout the United States.

At least one senior Member of Congress, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), has introduced legislation to do just that.

There have been recurring demands over the years to get rid of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, popularly known as ATF or BATFE.

ATF’s recent attempt to initiate construction of a national firearms registry, although federal law specifically forbids it, has reinvigorated calls to disband the agency.

However, the “Fast and Furious” federal government gun scandal certainly set the stage for such reinvigoration.

ATF is a section of the Justice Department, although it initially was part of the Treasury Department.

Its responsibilities include administration of federal firearms laws. In supposedly fulfilling these responsibilities, it runs afoul of legal limitations placed on its activities.

One of these responsibilities is the prevention of firearms purchases by persons ineligible under federal law to make such purchases. This includes straw purchases and their transfer to recipients, including recipients outside the United States.

At least as early as 2009, ATF agents in Arizona began to allow or even encourage illegitimate gun purchases in order to track the transfers to recipients in the “Fast and Furious” operation.

Reports and congressional testimony indicated there were about 2,000 guns in question. Recipients included drug cartels in Mexico. Some of the guns were used in crimes, including murder, in Mexico and the United States. One of the murder victims was American Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Congressional committees investigated “Fast and Furious” in an attempt to find out how high up in the Obama administration the responsibility goes for the operation, which in effect made the U.S. government, through ATF, a supplier of murder weapons to a criminal enterprise.

High-ranking Obama administration personnel stonewalled Congress in many cases, refusing to release relevant documents. This angered a number of Congressmen.

The House of Representatives even voted a contempt citation for Eric Holder, the Attorney General at the time, for his uncooperative and improper responses to congressional inquiries and document requests.

As if this scandal was not enough, ATF perpetrated yet another, more recent one with the firearms registry matter.

In early August of this year, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicated ATF “illegally stockpiles gun owners’ personal information,” noted the Daily Caller

A GAO audit of ATF found the agency “does not remove certain identifiable information, despite the law specifically mandating it do so,” reported the Daily Caller. “GAO conducted reviews for four data systems, and concluded at least two of ATF’s systems violated official protocols.”

Under federal law, a federal firearms licensee (FFL) must conduct a criminal records check of a prospective gun purchaser instantly through the National Crime Information Center to determine the buyer’s eligibility to make the purchase. If the NCIC check OKs the purchase, it can go through. If the check doesn’t OK the buy, it cannot legally take place.

It is the OK purchases that here are in question. The law specifically mandates that ATF destroy these records. Without their destruction, ATF could begin to establish a national gun owners’ registry, something also specifically prohibited by federal law.

This is a very sensitive issue within the Second Amendment community, which strives to protect the public from gun registration and its possible use as a first step towards citizen disarmament. Eighty to 100 million Americans own about 300 million rifles, shotguns and handguns. That’s tens of millions more people than vote for the winning presidential candidate every four years. Many Second Amendment adherents are suspicious of ATF in general and become especially suspicious when something like the GAO report surfaces.

According to he Daily Caller, “One of the data-collecting systems called Multiple Sales (MS) requires that multiple firearms purchased at once must be reported to ATF by the federal firearms licensee (FFL). ATF policy requires that the bureau internally removes particular data from multiple gun sales reports after two years if the firearm has not been traced to criminal activity. GAO found that ATF does not adhere to its own policy. In fact, ‘until May 2016, MS contained over 10,000 names that were not consistently deleted within the required two years.’”

Although ATF indicates it has corrected “mistakes,” many remain skeptical of the agency.

The Sensenbrenner bill, H.R. 1329, short-titled the “ATF Elimination Act,” would require ATF, FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to jointly develop and submit a plan for winding up the affairs of ATF that, without compromising core functions, eliminates and reduces duplicative, unnecessary functions or waste.

H.R. 1329 would require the FBI to transmit to GAO a report that specifies the property to the FBI pursuant to H.R. 1329 that the FBI has determined will not be needed.

H.R. 1329 would abolish ATF.

The bill sits in the House Judiciary Committee. Even if it met with congressional approval, President Obama probably would veto it.

Long range, Americans must be prepared to work for the repeal of gun legislation which allows bureaucratic agencies like ATF to operate. It’s gun control policy itself, rather than government administration of such policy, which allows for and even encourages big brother incursion on the individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in the first place.


John M. Snyder, called “the dean of Washington gun lobbyists” by the Washington Post and New York Times, for 50 years has defended American gun rights as an NRA editor, director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Second Amendment Foundation, and founder/director of www.GunRightsPolicies.org. He is founder/manager of Telum Associates, LL.C, founder/chairman of the St. Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc., and serves on the boards of the National Association of Chiefs of Police and the American Federation of Police & Concerned Citizens. Author of the book Gun Saint, he received his AB and MA from Georgetown University. Mr. Snyder is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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