It’s history lesson time. Since the Federal Firearms License system was put in place, it had been been possible for an individual to have their own license, allowing them to have firearms shipped straight to their house, just as if they were a gun shop. The practice was known as having a “kitchen counter” FFL.
Back in the 1990’s, though, Josh Sugarmann and the anti-gun Violence Policy Center saw this as a dark and dangerous loophole, one that needed to be closed. The VPC successfully lobbied the Clinton administration to rule that all FFL holders must be “in the business” of buying and selling firearms, putting an end to kitchen counter FFLs.
Sugarmann’s argument back in 1992 went like this:
The FFL is a public safety scandal created by the very agency charged with enforcing federal firearms laws. By giving a federal gun-dealing license to virtually anyone who can come up with $30 and isn’t a convicted felon, ATF has put criminals in the business of selling guns.
This may surprise you, but that characterization wasn’t exactly true. In order to obtain an FFL, an individual needs to pass a rigorous background check and adhere to strictly scrutinized documentation practices which the ATF regularly confirms with in-person examinations of their records. Claiming that granting kitchen counter FFLs is sanctioning criminals to sell guns is like claiming that kids participating in science fairs is creating a whole generation of Walter Whites.
If anti-gun activists didn’t have double standards, they’d have no standards at all. It’s been known for some time that Sugarmann has a Federal Firearms License, but what we’ve recently found out through a Freedom of Information Act request (credit to LonelyMachines on Reddit) is that he has the specific kind of FFL that he demanded the Clinton administration eliminate: a so-called kitchen counter FFL.
From the Reddit thread:
The upshot is this:
– The FFL was issued to the VPC
– It was denied at first because they are a declared nonprofit, and not “in the business”
– Sugarmann responded that he was a “firearms expert in design and manufacture,” and that he needed the FFL for the “examination and publication of written material” on the subject. He explicitly states, “no firearms of ammunition will be sold.”
– The ATF decided that was acceptable criteria, and the FFL was issued. It continues to be routinely renewed.
Well, isn’t that interesting? (Also, notice Sugarmann resubmitted the application and checked the box saying he did intend to make a profit.)
I reached out to the ATF and asked them how one gets a Type 1 FFL if he’s not running a for-profit business. This was the initial response:
“Thank you for your recent inquiry to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). This is in response to your email, in which you inquired about whether a nonprofit organization may be issued a Federal firearms license (FFL) for the purpose of publication of research and whether there are any licensing exceptions that exist for nonprofit organizations who are not engaged in a firearms business.
“There are no exceptions to the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) allowing organizations who are not engaged in in the business to obtain a Federal firearm license (FFL). We recommend that you obtain any firearm needed for your research from a local FFL.”
There was a back-and-forth in which they dug their heels in on this and insisted that there was no exception. I then brought the VPC FFL to their attention. Either they do this or they don’t.
Then I got an email from a L. Babbie, Firearms Enforcement Specialist. Apparently, there is an exception. It’s ruling 73-19. According to Mr. Babbie,
“You may record “N/A” to that question [on making a profit] and attach a sheet of paper to explain the nonprofit nature of your business. A local ATF Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) will call you to schedule a meeting after your application is received at the local ATF office.”
Essentially, if I say I need to receive and ship firearms from my home for research purposes, I can have my own FFL.
There are so many questions here. Why, exactly, does Sugarmann need his own Federal Firearms License? What kind of “research” is he doing that prevents him from using a regular gun shop to obtain firearms? Does he do transfers for other DC residents (there aren’t many FFLs in the District)? And if he thought the idea of “kitchen counter” FFLs was so dangerous, why is he part of the problem?