As part of the Biden administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” of cracking down on gun dealers who willfully violate the law, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has updated its website to provide more detailed documentation on the dealers who had their Federal Firearms Licenses (FFLs) revoked through December 2022. The agency’s website also offers more inspection and revocation figures for the first six months of 2023.
Though heavily redacted, the revocation reports show damning evidence of gun dealers who were cited for multiple violations of federal law — violations that make it harder for the ATF to trace crime guns and prevent trafficking.
In one example, the ATF revoked the license of a gun dealer in Virginia who was cited for 13 violations during a February 2021 inspection. According to the revocation report, the dealer falsified documents — including Form 4473, the transaction record for firearms — “in an attempt to mislead investigators and conceal missing firearms.” The dealer also failed to conduct a background check on a customer, complete and maintain records, and report multiple handgun sales, as required by law. The report notes that during a previous inspection in 2018, the dealer was cited for 12 violations, two of which were repeat violations, as well.
According to another revocation report, a gun dealer in Texas had his FFL revoked after a May 2022 inspection uncovered that he had sold a gun without conducting a background check or completing Form 4473 in violation of federal law. The dealer was cited for 16 total violations, many of which were repeat violations from inspections conducted in 2018 and 2021.
A gun shop in New Mexico had its FFL revoked after an August 2021 inspection uncovered 13 violations, including transferring firearms to customers without conducting background checks, completing Form 4473s, or verifying their identification. Other violations included failing to report multiple sales of firearms and properly maintain inventory records. As the revocation report notes, the dealer was issued a warning letter and had to attend a warning conference after inspections in 2017 and 2019 uncovered many similar violations.
The gun industry, which often claims that those concerned with gun violence should first enforce existing laws on the books, has vocally opposed the ATF’s enforcement of existing laws pertaining to gun dealers. For instance, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade association, has downplayed willful violations of federal law as “minor clerical errors” and railed against the Biden administration for “using the ATF as a blunt instrument to hobble the firearms industry.” The NSSF claims that “[l]icensed firearm retailers have had their lives destroyed for paperwork mistakes,” but the revocation reports show that gun dealers have broken the law — and possibly contributed to the illegal firearms market.
When the zero-tolerance policy was announced in June 2021, the Biden administration noted five willful violations of federal law (known as “qualifying violations”) that would lead to a license revocation:
- Transferring a firearm to a prohibited person;
- Failing to run a background check;
- Falsifying records, such as Form 4473;
- Failing to respond to an ATF tracing request; or
- Refusing to allow the ATF to conduct an inspection.
The ATF’s updated data shows a significant increase in gun dealer inspections that found qualifying violations since the zero-tolerance policy was announced. In the last half of 2021, there was an average of six FFL inspections that found such violations per month.1Note: These figures do not include inspections that found qualifying violations that could be explained by what the ATF describes as “extraordinary circumstances.” In the following 12 months, through December 2022, that average jumped to 21 per month, and in the first half of 2023, there was an average of 31 inspections with qualifying violations per month.
Average Number of Inspections with Qualifying Violations Cited Per Month
If the trend from the first half of the year continues, 2023 will see 374 inspections with qualifying violations, a 50-percent increase compared to 2022.
In announcing the zero-tolerance policy, President Biden called on the ATF to provide the public “with additional data to promote transparency and accountability in enforcement of federally licensed firearms dealer policies,” but there are still some gaps in information.
As of this writing, the ATF’s website does not provide any documentation, such as inspection reports, for gun dealers who voluntarily surrendered their licenses after inspections. Nor does the ATF provide revocation documents from before July 2021, or details of those licenses that have been revoked or surrendered in 2023. Greater transparency would likely reveal gun dealers engaged in serious violations of law that endanger their local communities.