Does the ATF Already Maintain a National Gun Registry?

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (and Really Big Fires) is creating an “emergency” database of gun buyers who purchase “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.” Once activated, the ATF directive will apply to some 8500 gun dealer near America’s southern border for 180 days. The move has stirred-up a gun rights’ hornet’s nest, as well it should . . .

The initiative puts the ATF on a slippery slope towards a national gun registration scheme, with all the taxation, purchase restrictions and Katrina-esque federal gun grabbing (bye Dan) that implies. The only thing is, the ATF’s been slidin’ down that slope for some time.

If a federally-licensed gun dealer (FFL) goes out of business, the ATF takes possession of all records of all firearms sales since the dealer opened shop—often decades of customer data—and enters them into their eTrace database. That includes everything that’s on ATF Form 4473: name, address, date of birth, social security number, weapon or weapons purchased and serial numbers for same.

As the Wiki hive mind points out, this same data transfer occurs when a gun dealer leaves the trade:

The dealer also records all information from the Form 4473 into their “bound-book”. A dealer must keep this log the entire time they are in business and is required to surrender the log to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) upon retirement from the firearms business. The ATF is allowed to inspect, as well as request a copy of the Form 4473 from the dealer during the course of a criminal investigation. In addition, the sale of two or more handguns to a person in a five day period must be reported to ATF on Form 3310.4.

Note the bit about inspection of the dealer’s “bound-book.” Once upon a time, this was done manually during inspections. These days, the ATF routinely photographs the contents of the bound book during inspections. TTAG has learned that the ATF is now entering this information into a database.

Nothing new there. Back in 2000, the ATF admitted that it was data-capturing Form 4473 info into its database without a warrant. Here’s a turn-of-the-century story from The Denver Post about a paperwork-aversive gun dealer named Jim Gowda.

[Inspector Chris] Eastburn entered the serial numbers of thousands of guns that had passed through Gowda’s hands into ATF’s national “suspect gun database,” in case they turned up later in criminal arrests . . .

In an interview, [Denver ATF enforcement chief Gerald] Petrilli said ATF routinely entered Trader Jim’s identifiable sales into its suspect gun database because “Mr. Gowda, as far as we’re concerned, was trafficking guns all over the place.”

Translation: if the ATF suspects a gun dealer of dealing guns illegally—without having to prove so to any judicial authority—the dealers’ legal sales are entered into the ATF’s eTrace system.

Flash forward and the ATF has developed a 4473 “eForm” whereby a gun dealer enters all the customer data into their computer, enabling more rapid and efficient transfer of the purchase information to the feds—as and when. Or . . . now?

Regardless, the bottom line remains the same: the ATF maintains a national gun registry. It may not be complete or up-to-date, but if you buy a gun through an FFL, the chances are the feds will keep a record of the transaction. Maybe not now, but soon. And forever.