Don’t believe for a minute that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms’ (ATF) ‘zero-tolerance’ policy isn’t real or is some “right-wing conspiracy.” The first nine months of statistics are in and the Biden administration is doing exactly what it said it would. President Joe Biden and his White House advisors are using the ATF as a blunt instrument to hobble the firearm industry.
So far in 2023, ATF has conducted 6,609 inspections of Federal Firearms Licensees – starting on Oct. 1, which is when the federal government’s fiscal calendar begins. That’s closing in on 2022’s annual total of 7,502 for the entire year. ATF inspectors are conducting an average of 647.33 inspections across the nation per month, topping 2022’s monthly average of 587.66.
At this pace, ATF is expected to complete 8,902 inspections before the end of its fiscal year. That’s a blistering pace. There are more sobering figures though.
Warning Conferences, or results of an inspection that warrant a meeting with ATF’s Industry Operations Inspectors, are at 111 for the first nine months. There were 136 for all of FY 2022. Revocations of federal firearms licenses are already at 122. They were just 92 for FY 2022.
In fiscal year 2020 (ending on Sept. 30), the year President Biden was elected, there were 5,823 ATF inspections of FFL holders. That year, there were just 40 license revocations with 96 FFL holders that went out of business or surrendered their licenses. The ATF inspections in FY 2020 resulted in 306 warning conferences and another 804 warning letters. Warning letters were routinely issued for minor clerical errors in record keeping, like misspelled names, dates recorded incorrectly or other administrative errors.
Those have now become grounds for license revocation. NSSF warned the industry that this would happen when President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris both campaigned on the idea that they would employ the ATF as a weapon by which they would dismantle the firearm industry and hamper the ability for law-abiding citizens to lawfully-purchase a firearm.
It started when President Biden took to the debate stage in 2019 and said, “Our enemy is the gun manufacturers, not the NRA, the gun manufacturers.”
Not to be outdone, Vice President Harris, when she was still vying for the top of the White House ticket, said, “I will require that for any gun dealer that breaks the law, the ATF take their license.”
President Biden adopted that notion into his gun control platform.
Since taking office, the Biden administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to firearm retailer inspections. A single violation can be interpreted as breaking the law and the 1934 Gun Control Act allows ATF to revoke a federal firearm license for a single violation. Instead of using the ATF as a government bureau to assist the firearm industry to stay within regulations, President Biden and his Department of Justice (DOJ) have turned it into a steel trap by which they snare firearm retailers to run them out of business.
That’s evidenced by President Biden’s nomination of David Chipman to become ATF director. NSSF vehemently opposed his nomination. He was a paid lobbyist and advisor for both Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords gun control groups.
This is the same individual who insulted gun owners and disparaged the firearm industry. That’s why NSSF opposed Chipman’s nomination and was pleased when his name was withdrawn, adding that anyone leading the ATF “should be someone wedded to the ATF’s legitimate mission, not to a gun control agenda.”
Not Criminals, Just Industry
The Biden administration’s zealous targeting of the firearm industry contrasted with its unwillingness to actually enforce criminal laws. The Biden administration is using the law to revoke licenses of firearm retailers for minor clerical errors yet ignores actual crimes.
The most appalling example is, of course, the DOJ’s deal for Hunter Biden. The president’s son was accused of – and admitted to – lying on a Form 4473. He was addicted to and used crack cocaine daily, yet attested on the FBI’s background check form that he wasn’t a user of illegal drugs. That’s a felony offense. His handgun was later carelessly and irresponsibly discarded in a trash receptable near a school.
NSSF criticized the DOJ for a plea agreement offer that would see these charges dropped to avoid prosecution for illegally possessing a firearm as an admitted drug user and plead guilty to misdemeanor tax offenses. NSSF noted in a press release that, “This agreement fuels Americans’ concerns that the Biden administration supports two systems of justice – one that protects the Biden administration, the Biden family and its political allies and another that doles out punishments for those who oppose the Biden administration’s policies.”
Licensed firearm retailers have had their lives destroyed for paperwork mistakes far less notorious than lying about being a crack addict to buy a gun. They are not serious about reducing gun violence, only scoring cheap political points.
President Biden doesn’t intend to stop washing over his administration’s unwillingness to confront crime and instead continue targeting the firearm industry. In his DOJ budget request, he tucked away plans to hire more inspectors than field agents for the ATF. That shows exactly where the Biden administration is prioritizing their efforts.
Zero tolerance doesn’t apply to stopping criminals. The Biden administration reserves that approach for the firearm industry.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.