An “Open letter to all Federal Firearms Licensees” released Wednesday by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Firearms and Explosives Industry Division Chief Chad J. Yoder fulfills one of the 23 executive actions President Barack Obama announced at Wednesday’s signing, but does so by pressuring dealers who are dependent on ATF approval for their economic survival to “volunteer,” while increasing their liability and exposure for infractions.
“Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers” Obama said, not making clear he was going to be making a special effort to capture transactions between same-state residents. Current federal law requires going through an FFL if conducting a transfer between residents of different states.
The entire effort is based on the (stated) presumption that private sellers and purchasers within the same state will wish to have their transaction recorded with the federal government and pay a fee for the privilege. That the chances dangerous criminals who cause the violence problems would want to stick their heads in that noose hover between slim and none should, just at a surface glance, demonstrate the ridiculousness of such an assumption. That does not, however, mean this effort is something to be dismissed and ignored as an Obama PR sop. That would be a mistake, because as ineffectual as this will prove in achieving stated goals, it still presents real dangers for everyone but the criminals, something the administration knows that full well.
First, there’s the matter of conditioning dealers and their customers that in-state sales between residents require federal approval, record-keeping and fees, an administration goal, to be sure, but not the law. Still, if enough people accept this intrusion on a voluntary basis, they won’t feel like they’re losing any freedoms when the time comes to relieve them of any choice in the matter, so they won’t be inclined to put up a squawk.
Why should they?
“Increasingly ATF is going into gun dealers and Xeroxing all of the 4473’s,” Gun Owners of America cautions its members in a recent alert. “This is illegal under McClure-Volkmer, but, in case you hadn’t noticed, Obama is increasingly ignoring the law when it inconveniences him.”
That this could later provide a “framework for national gun registration and confiscation” is self-evident.
And dangers for dealers?
“Facilitated transfers are subject to the same rules and regulations as other firearms sales conducted by FFLs, including compliance with state and local law,” the open letter reads.
Remember the Reese family? FFL Rick and son Ryin have been in jail for a year-and-a-half, even though money laundering charges were dismissed and they were acquitted on charges of conspiracy and gun smuggling. Their sole convictions had to do with their signing Form 4473s in transactions involving an undercover agent because the government says they “should have known” the sales were illegal.
Remember Fast and Furious and similar “gunwalking” operations? Dealers were pressured by the government to allow sales to proceed to straw purchasers, and were even told in some cases to process transfers to buyers who had failed background checks.
Remember Red’s Trading Post, where ATF made a gun dealer’s life living hell for paperwork infractions as innocuous as entering “Y” or “N” on the 4473 instead of “Yes” or “No”?
And there’s something even more insidious at work here, and that has to do with the fact that FFLs are dependent on the good will of their ATF overlords simply to exist -- and they know that crossing and displeasing them can subject them to a world of retaliatory hurt (Gun Rights Examiner has spiked a major story dealing with gunwalking in another region of the country because the FFL source with documented allegations got cold feet – even though his identity was protected, he was certain the revelations and the circumstances would allow those he was reporting on to identify him, and he feared retaliation.) The ATF inspectors can destroy more than just a dealer’s livelihood, as the Reese case illustrates.
“An FFL should always, always, always be happy to assist LE, and that includes ATF,” an industry best practices authority told Gun Rights Examiner. “However, they should always ask for a written request from LE for what is being asked of them.
“I guess this open letter is a universal written request then?” the source asked rhetorically. “ If an inspector tries to ‘put the squeeze’ on an FFL, they should politely indicate that they are reviewing how this process would work internally in their store, as well as how it comports with their state law, and will proceed once they iron out those details.”
Perhaps some of the details can be ironed out beforehand, and perhaps this column can act as a sort of “reverse open letter” back to Chief Yoder, with the following clarifications requested:
If a dealer says “No, not interested,” will there be retaliation, maybe some heightened audit scrutiny as a result? Maybe even some findings and some "willful violations"? How will we know?
Are inspectors under any pressure to achieve some success in this area? What are they being told expectations for their performance are? What incentives, positive or negative, can they expect to achieve these goals? Are there goals? Will there be any expectations that could be remotely construed as quotas?
How about DIOs? What are their marching orders on this from HQ, and what pressures and career considerations, if any, have been communicated to them? Any chance we could get a copy of any related emails or memoranda that go into detail on this, or would that require a FOIA?
Speaking of DIOs, and this is wandering off topic a bit, what ever happened to Houston Field Office DIO Russell Vanderwerf, and why shouldn’t a dealer feel like this latest expectation puts him on his knees behind a door there’s only one way through, and that requires pleasing someone in a position to dominate who looks forward to such encounters?
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