ATF National Trace Center
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) tracer Debbie Marshall reaching for a microfilm roll of firearm transaction documents, from firearms dealers no longer in business, as she researches a firearm used in a crime, at the National Trace Center in Martinsburg, W.Va. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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Someone at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) believes it is easier – or more politically convenient – to roll over to gun control activists and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit than it is to defend a federal law protecting firearm trace data.

For the second time in less than a year, the ATF chose to ignore the Tiahrt Amendment – the federal law that prohibits the disclosure of sensitive firearm trace data to anyone outside of law enforcement circles for use in a bona fide investigation – and instead released it to the public. This time, the ATF handed over the trace data to The Trace, the mouthpiece for the activist gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Just six months ago, ATF handed over firearm trace data to USA Today through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request – despite the fact that firearm trace data isn’t subject to FOIA requests.

The Trace, hardly a bastion of objective journalism and once described as an “agitprop outlet” – chose not to challenge a Ninth Circuit ruling that the agency had to hand over protected firearm trace data to Stop US Arms to Mexico, a nonprofit in Oakland, Calif. That was after John Londsay-Poland, the group’s founder, requested the data for U.S.-made firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, broken down by the U.S. states, counties and ZIP codes from where they were purchased.

ATF denied the request, initially at least. That’s because the Tiahrt Amendment states that the ATF cannot release that information outside of law enforcement circles. Lindsay-Poland sued and the Ninth Circuit agreed that the information must be released. However, less than a month later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that firearm trace data was protected and could not be released.

That’s a circuit court split. The ATF – which reports to the Department of Justice – should have recognized that there is disagreement between the circuit courts, setting up a question for the U.S. Supreme Court to consider. The Ninth Circuit had 78.6 percent of the caseschallenged from that court overturned. In 2022, 11 of the 14 cases that were challenged were overturned. Percentage-wise, the Ninth Circuit doesn’t lead in cases overturned. The Fourth, Fifth, Tenth and D.C. Circuit along with state courts led those percentages, but had far fewer cases reviewed, with three, three, eight, two, one and five, respectively.

That track record indicates that the ATF and DOJ might have had a fighting chance to argue that the Ninth Circuit erred in their judgement to order the release of the protected firearm trace data. They didn’t do that. Instead – ATF handed it over.

There’s no secret, however, as to why gun control groups like Everytown, their mouthpiece The Trace, or Stop US Arms to Mexico and others are working to defeat the Tiahrt Amendment. Mexico is suing several U.S. firearm manufacturers for $10 billion in damages, claiming that members of the firearm industry are responsible for the narco-terrorist drug cartels’ criminal misuse in Mexico of illegally smuggled U.S.-made firearms. That case was petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that’s not stopping gun control activists. They continue their campaign to blame the firearm industry for Mexican government corruption, failed “hugs, not bullets” strategies and drug cartels running with impunity.

Mexico smeared U.S. manufacturers at a United Nations forum, sidestepping their own government’s culpability in enabling narco-terrorists to run amok within their borders. Jonathan Lowy, a former top lawyer for the gun control group Brady, and Elizabeth Burke, also a former Brady lawyer, registered as foreign agents of Mexico under their new venture Global Action on Gun Violence. Brady, of course, was a backer of Mexico’s lawsuit against U.S. firearm manufacturers.

This all begs the question of why the Biden administration is allowing firearm trace data to be released in violation of federal law without taking it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, like they did when Chicago demanded nationwide trace data to support its lawsuit against the industry. The case was pending before the Supreme Court when Congress enacted the Tiahrt Amendment. After all, even the ATF has said that the appearance of a firearm retailer in a trace report “in no way suggests” wrongdoing on the part of that retailer.

The ATF’s Volume Three of the National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment found just 136 cases of illegal firearm trafficking tied to a federal firearms licensee (FFL) over a five year period. That’s just 1.6 percent of all 9,700 cases. To put that into more specific perspective, there were 134,516 federal firearms licensees (FFLs) at the end of 2021. That equates to just 0.1 percent of all FFLs being implicated in allegedly illegal firearm trafficking before President Joe Biden instituted his whole-of-government crackdown on the firearm industry.

It starts with President Biden himself. Four years ago, he stood on the debate stage with the other Democratic candidates for The White House and said “Our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the NRA, the gun manufacturers.” Since then, he’s used nearly every government lever to attack the industry in a “whole of government” campaign against the only industry that provides the means to exercise a Constitutionally-protected right.

Then there’s Vice President Kamala Harris. She’s the one President Biden put in charge of securing the southern U.S. border, which is still wide open. She’s also the one he put in charge of heading up his gun control agenda. She’s assisted there by the newly-established White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which is staffed by former Everytown lobbyist Robert Wilcox.

Of course, there’s U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama but his nomination was never considered by the U.S. Senate. As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he voted against gun rights in each of the four cases he had the opportunity to weigh in on.

There’s also ATF Director Steven Dettelbach. There are still open questions from U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as to why the DOJ and ATF, among 16 law enforcement agencies, pulled the plug on Operation Thor, a secretive project that was designed to disrupt known firearm trafficking networks. It was working, until the ATF pulled the plug – at the same time Mexico brought their claims against U.S. firearm manufacturers.

Former ATF Acting Director Michael Sullivan recently wrote of the importance of safeguarding firearm trace data and not using this information as a political football.

“If the Tiahrt Amendment were repealed, it could seriously undermine, if not eviscerate, the critically important investigations ATF special agents and local law enforcement are building to bring illegal firearm traffickers to justice,” Sullivan wrote. “However, it’s becoming clearer that some within the administration see this as a calculated opportunity to set the conditions for a ‘name-and-shame’ effort to smear firearm retailers and manufacturers, at the expense of ATF’s important and well-executed mission, which includes relationships with those in the industry who also want to keep firearms out of the hands of prohibited persons.”

He added, “The ATF has long held that firearm trace data isn’t to be used as a political tool.”

Except now. ATF isn’t interested in protecting their own firearm trace data. That’s apparent. If officials in ATF or the DOJ were trying to stay above politics, they wouldn’t have handed over the information twice in less than six months so easily.


Article courtesy of NSSF.

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  2. Naturally it being the ATF there will be no response to any information requests about their violation of the law.

  3. The Trace, Everytown for Gun Safety and USA Today turning America’s gullible youth into insane Gun Control drama queens…

  4. As far as the ATF is concerned there are no lawful firearm transactions and no lawful possession. Their mission statement should be “Undoing the Second Amendment at taxpayers expense.”

  5. It’s obvious they are not going to defer to Chevron Deference. Basically, 80-90% of all gun control acts became UnConstitutional the minute that ruling was handed down. The Supreme Court needed to go one step further and call it exactly what it is; “A Title of Nobility,”, handed to agencies so they could perform “Bills of Attainder,” often times “Ex Post Facto.”

    Just because Congress is forbidden to do these things does not mean they can Legislate around it via AGENCY. Life, Liberty, or Pursuit of Happiness (Land or possessions).” Think about the EPA, they literally say they are bringing you or nature or whatever into “Attainment.” Surely that strikes a chord. How about when they mention “Imperial Presidency.” When you hear that, you have to ask, “how is this allowed?” The answer is simple; Congress has in fact given “Title of Nobility” to agencies and ultimately the President. The Supreme Court in 1942 in Wickard V. Filburn ruled with moral interpretation and the table was set for some really bad precedent.

    In short, when the Congress abrogates its actual law making process to agency, they are showing exactly how chicken they really are. They fear us more than you think. We just need to step up! They are going to apply Chevron however they see fit, allowing rule making via agency when it suits them and not allowing it when it doesn’t. You think things were topsy turvy before? They can get a darn sight worse! It’s time to stop the madness.

  6. Only 40% of guns sold in the US are sold through a federally licensed dealer.

    But 30% of guns involved in criminal trafficking are connected to gun shows, where background checks aren’t required. The trafficking of guns generally involves a highly efficient, organized, and profitable business that moves guns from legal manufacture to dealers to criminals and young people who can’t buy guns legally.

    Currently, 17 states and DC have laws requiring universal background checks for firearms purchases.

    • …are connected to gun shows, where background checks aren’t required.
      Fact Check: FALSE

      Reality: Background checks are required for all firearms transactions originating from an FFL – regardless of where the sale takes place.

      Private Sellers are not required to perform background checks – regardless of whether at a gun show, or in their garage.

      Furthermore, Private Sellers must obtain an FFL to sell firearms if they are deemed “in the business” of selling firearms (for which this definition has been altered by the ATF recently).

      • So you agreed with the original post. Only 40% of gun sales are traceable, those through FFLs.

        That’s why gun buyers & sellers who supply criminals often chose go around FFLs and use gun shows and private transactions.

    • LOL no and not even close with even worst case NY estimates. Go push the narrative though it’s fun to watch.

  7. The ATF and its agents are never cited for what appear to be their ongoing violations of Existing Federal Law. How come this odd situation, or might it be that ongoing violations of existing law, by component parts of the U.S. Dept. Of Justice are above questioning?


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