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Does the NSSF Support Biden’s “Zero Tolerance” Policy?

The gun industry’s trade association has offered conflicting comments on the gun dealer inspection initiative

In June 2021, the Biden administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy directing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to revoke the licenses of gun dealers who willfully violate certain federal laws, including transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, failing to run a required background check, falsifying records, failing to respond to an ATF tracing request, or refusing to permit ATF to conduct an inspection in violation of the law.

Since it was announced, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade association, has vocally opposed the “zero tolerance” policy. But recent testimony given by an NSSF lobbyist appears to contradict the organization’s more public comments.

public opposition

The NSSF’s senior vice president and general counsel, Larry Keane, 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.”

In a recent interview, Keane stated that the Biden administration was “openly hostile,” and that the ATF was “trying to revoke as many dealers [licenses] as they can.”1NRApubs, “NSSF’s Larry Keane Has Something to Say About Joe Biden and the ATF,” YouTube, February 1, 2024,, at 3:52. According to Keane, “What we have seen is many many instances where in the past ATF would have worked with the dealer to educate them on the mistakes that they made because they weren’t really truly willful, right, they were paperwork errors, somebody made a mistake, now they’re revoking their license.”2NRApubs, “NSSF’s Larry Keane,” at 15:14.

Keane then offered an example of how an auction house “had its license revoked for two mistakes”: accepting an out-of-state concealed-carry permit from a customer in lieu of running a background check — which Keane incorrectly states “would not have been a violation” in the past and was not a “threat…to public safety” — and failing to report when a customer purchased five guns at once, as required by law.3NRApubs, “NSSF’s Larry Keane,” at 15:33. Keane said, “And that’s just one example of what we view as excesses and ATF being overly aggressive under this zero-tolerance policy to revoke licenses.”4NRApubs, “NSSF’s Larry Keane,” at 17:07.

Keane also alleged that dealers are now withholding information from the ATF that might help with gun trafficking investigations “because they’re afraid it’s going to result in an inspection, and they may lose their license for some mistake they didn’t even know they made.”5NRApubs, “NSSF’s Larry Keane,” at 18:18. But dealers are legally required to cooperate with the ATF when it comes to inspections and crime gun tracing requests.

Conflicting testimony in Colorado

But maybe this isn’t really the NSSF’s position on the issue. Earlier this month, the NSSF’s director of state affairs, Nephi Cole, testified in support of Colorado’s SB24-003, which would empower the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to investigate situations where prohibited persons attempt to purchase firearms, and contradicted the NSSF’s more public statements about the ATF’s “zero tolerance” policy.

During his testimony, Cole stated that SB24-003 “targets the illicit trade of firearms. Our members are comfortable with that because, to be frank, that’s not us. The ATF has a zero-tolerance policy for licensed firearms dealers who willfully break the law. We think that’s important. Lawful gun owners and lawful gun retailers and businesses are not the problem.”6Alicia Garcia (@boomstickbabe), “Here is the testimony from Nephi Cole of the NSSF supporting a $1.7 million dollar gun control bill,” Twitter, February 5, 2024,, at 0:32.

Days after Cole’s testimony — which angered gun rights activists on social media — the NSSF published a blog post where Keane once again called the “zero tolerance” policy a “campaign to shutter firearm retailers over minor clerical errors.”

The ATF has continued to update its website with detailed documentation on the dealers who had their licenses revoked in recent years. But Keane called this an “unprecedented move to ‘name-and-shame’ businesses” and “an overtly political maneuver to satisfy gun control advocates who clamor to falsely smear business owners as ‘bad apples’ when many times it is clerical errors in records that caused them to run afoul of inspections.” The revocation reports paint a much damning portrait, however, as discussed here.

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