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ATF quietly laying groundwork to expand multiple rifle sales reporting

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A little noticed and virtually unreported April 15 notice posted in the Federal Register suggests the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives intends expanding the multiple rifle sale requirement currently imposed on four border states (Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas) to all states.

Titled “Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed eCollection eComments Requested; Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition of Certain Rifles,” and assigned OMB Number 1140–0100, the 60-day notice abstract declares “The purpose of this information collection is to require Federal Firearms Licensees to report multiple sales or other dispositions whenever the licensee sells or otherwise disposes of two or more rifles within any five consecutive business days with the following characteristics: (a) Semi automatic; (b) a caliber greater than .22; and (c) the ability to accept a detachable magazine.

“Comments are encouraged and will be accepted for 60 days until June 16, 2014,” the notice advises. That means much of the comment period has already passed with most unaware it ever began. And the ATF website offers no additional information other than links to the notice and to various forms.

The question now becomes, especially with a seeming total lack of publicity, is ATF attempting an “under the radar” action to impose on the entire country what they previously imposed (over objections that could have been stronger) on southwest gun buyers and sellers?

“That's what it looks like,” one legal adviser approached for his read on this development offered. “And no, I haven't seen this yet, which is strange as I'm subscribed to the ATF Federal Register filings.”

Compounding the lack of information: There is nothing about this posted during April on ATF’s press release page. But such a move by the Holder Justice Department would not be unexpected.

“Now that ATF is saying straw purchasers are altering their behavior, expect that to be used as justification to expand this requirement to all the states,” this column anticipated in a May 5, 2012 report.

Those wishing to make comments within the 41 remaining days the period will be open can find further information on the Federal Register proposal information page, and then click on the “Submit a formal comment” button -- or you can try to. Several attempts were made and no comment form appeared. There was, however, further instruction on the page the link cycles back to.

“If you have additional comments especially on the estimated public burden or associated response time, suggestions, or need a copy of the proposed information collection instrument with instructions or additional information, please contact Natisha Taylor at fipb- informationcollection@atf.gov, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Firearms Industry Programs Branch, Washington, DC 20226,” the Federal Register post advises.

Also of note: Searches for “OMB Number 1140–0100” yield no results at this writing on Regulations.gov and the OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs websites, both of which have been referenced in the past for ATF comment periods, such as when Gun Rights Examiner was encouraging input during the proposed NFA rule change comment period. Whether this is just a temporary issue is unknown at this time, so readers are encouraged to test things for themselves. Also unknown is if this would be justification to extend the comment period.

Still, it's curious that email appears to be the primary way to submit comments, particularly since this column was advised that anti-gun activists used an "automated form emailer" to flood ATF with supportive comments when the original border states scheme was soliciting public input. That could be repeated here.

Then again, there may be a more benign explanation.

“It looks to me as if they are planning a new rule, haven't proposed it yet, but are trying to get advance clearance under the Paperwork Reduction Act (which you have to comply with separate from the proposed rule,” another adviser speculated to explain the absence. “The agency predicts how many hours it will take to fill out each new form, and OMB gives its approval.”

If that’s the case, the notice that commenting will be open until June 16 is most confusing to those not familiar with wending their way through government websites. In any case, evident media silence on this development means if it’s going to get noticed, shared and investigated, that will be up to gun owners. That in turn means, especially in the absence of readily accessible information, anyone with information leading to a more complete understanding of administration direction to ATF could lend valuable insights into this.

Perhaps congressional representatives should be contacted and asked what they know about this, if anything, and if the administration bypassing the elected representatives of the people to enact “gun control” via executive diktat is something that sits OK with them. That might be especially relevant in an election year, as the move seemingly allows the president’s party to keep a low profile on guns until after the elections, while he does their lifting for them.

UPDATE: A comment poster pointed out fine print: "Extension without change of an existing collection" which may mean this is limited to the border states -- but the notice does not specifically say that, and does not indicate a subset of FFLs this will be required of. The "purpose" statement appears to apply to all. We'll need to watch and see. It's very unclear, and the lack of information means this is something that needs to be investigated to find out for sure.

UPDATE 2: I took the raised concern back to the attys I vetted this with and asked what we should make of "Extension without change of an existing collection." The answer: "I don't think anyone knows for sure, but as [name redacted] already stated, it is likely a precursor to a new rule being proposed."

A second replied “I do not see any information that limits the multiple rifle reporting to 'only' border states in the new collection. The OLD federal register actually stated only the border states. I believe this is going to apply to all FFLs."

I will continue to monitor and update this as relevant information is learned.

UPDATE 3: The new notice estimates the same number of hours as on the original : "In fiscal year 2010, 36,148 reports of multiple sales of hand guns sales were submitted by FFLs in the four southwest border states. ... we estimate we will receive 18,074 reports of multiple sale of the specified rifles from FFLs located in the four southwest border states. We estimate that each report will take 12 minutes to complete. If we receive 18,074 reports from 2,509 licensees the total burden is 3,615 hours. The estimated annual burden per respondent is 1 hour and 26 minutes."

That said, the earlier notice provided a key bit of information missing from this latest one: "This requirement will apply only to Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) who are dealers and/or pawnbrokers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas."

UPDATE 4 (May 22): Stranger and stranger. The new version evidently doesn't contain the "to the same person" qualifier in its statement of purpose.

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