ATF inspector seizes gun store customer records without warrant

A Florida-based Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Industry Operations inspector (IOI) seized a federal firearms licensee’s (FFL) completed ATF Form 4473s and bound book to take off-site to make copies violating federal law. The IOI would return the documents a week later.

Last week, Kiloton Tactical joined a coalition of FFLs led by Eric Blandford of the Iraqveteran8888 YouTube channel and vowed to sue the ATF over the Biden Administration’s zero-tolerance policy for FFLs. The lawsuit has now been filed with the illegal actions of the IOI front and center in the complaint.

According to 18 U.S.C. 923(g)(1)(A), FFLs must maintain records such as a bound book and copies of the ATF Form 4473, which Kiloton Tactical did maintain. During an inspection, an IOI is able to look over records for policy violations but does not have the authority to inspect the documents off-site. This action is expressly prohibited by 27 CFR § 478.23(cd).

The statute reads:

“The inspections and examinations provided by this section do not authorize an ATF officer to seize any records or documents other than those records or documents constituting material evidence of a violation of law. If an ATF officer seizes such records or documents, copies shall be provided to the licensee within a reasonable time.”

At the time of the seizure, no wrongdoing was suspected. The IOI insisted he was within his legal rights to remove the documents from the store. The IOI’s deviation put him at odds with federal law.

The ATF’s IOI handbook doubles down on forbidding an IOI from removing records from a business. The ATF has been slow to release the IOI handbook to the public, and when they finally did, the document was heavily redacted. AmmoLand News acquired an unredacted copy of the guide from our sources inside the ATF. Every IOI is responsible for knowing the policies laid out in the handbook, but the ATF employee ignored page 10 of the handbook, which expressly prohibits IOIs from making any seizures.

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Later in the same guide, the ATF states that all inspections should be done at the FFL’s location. There is no exception for carrying out an inspection of records off-site. The IOI in question violated the ATF’s own policies and violated federal law. To many, this is just another example of a lack of training for ATF employees. Others believe that ATF employees think they are above the law due to a culture of government overreach.

The Biden administration has empowered the ATF to shut down gun stores for small clerical errors. President Joe Biden claims the new zero-tolerance policy only affects “rogue gun dealers,” but in practice, many more small gun stores are being targeted. FFL revocations are up between 350% and 500%, rising to a 17-year high.

IOIs no longer have the discretion to determine whether a violation is willful. Instead of revocation being the last option, it is becoming the default action by the ATF over minor errors. The zero-tolerance policies have significantly impacted the firearms market, decreasing the number of gun stores across the country and ending the livelihood of not only the stores’ owners but also the employees of the businesses.

One organization that has sounded the alarm against the ATF overreach is Gun Owners of America (GOA). GOA has a lawsuit of its own in North Dakota against the zero-tolerance policy. GOA Senior Vice President Erich Pratt has pledged to help the FFL Coalition’s efforts in any way possible.

“The ATF is out of control, and both Congress and the Courts have an obligation to rein them in! GOA fully supports the FFL Coalition’s efforts to halt the weaponization of the ATF, and thus protect honest gun dealers around the country,” Pratt told AmmoLand News. “Left unchecked, Biden’s Zero Tolerance policy will cripple the gun industry and make it virtually impossible for law-abiding Americans to purchase firearms and exercise their rights.”

The actions of the IOI show the agency’s problems are systemic and highly politicized, leaving us with one solution: defund the ATF.

John Crump is an NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. He has written about firearms, interviewing people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss or at Republished with permission of AmmoLand.

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