These observations by Andrew Tuohy have been floating across the gun web for a couple of days. I have to quote at length, although the entire post is worth reading, as are the comments.
Last year, I was sitting at home when my doorbell rang. Two polite and professional ATF agents informed me that the number of firearms I had purchased from 2007 to 2010 did not match my income. I was disappointed to learn that this fact did not come with some sort of prize or award, but suddenly wondered how they knew what I had purchased. They knew of 5 AR receivers transferred to me on one 4473 (in 2010), for which no background check had been performed. I told them that those receivers, along with most of the firearms I had transferred to me during that time, were provided for free by manufacturers for T&E purposes, and told them about my blog.
When later I asked the FFL about that transaction record, they told me that the ATF had audited their records but didn’t appear to have copied any information – although that is literally the only way they could have known about those five receivers or even the transaction itself. The receivers came from two different manufacturers, and the only time they appeared together was on that 4473, which is supposed to be only retrieved by the ATF if there is a need to trace a specific transaction (and there was no need to trace that transaction). Federal law prohibits their doing so.
A friend was recounting an ATF audit at his gun store, and mentioned that the agents were copying information from 4473s.
I am not the first person to notice this.
I think that ATF Industry Operations agents are using the excuse of auditing the quality of FFL recordkeeping to create a database of firearm owners – or at the very least transferees of certain types of firearms. This is, in essence, a defenestration of the law.
The GAO link states:
Several gun dealers have contacted Gun Owners of America and asked for our advice. Invariably, they say that the ATF is, or has been, at their store — making wholesale copies of their 4473 forms — and they want to know if that’s legal.
We are not going to betray their confidence without permission, but GOA can say that this has occurred enough times to make us believe these are not isolated incidents. (GOA has attached several redacted stories from gun dealers in the Appendix.)
The copying of 4473 forms has happened despite the prohibition in 18 USC 923(g)(1)(D) which specifically prohibits anyone in the Justice Department from “seiz[ing] any records or other documents other than those records or documents constituting material evidence of a violation of law.”
Uncle has the usual quick and insightful summary to offer. And finally from comments back at Andrew’s blog:
As an FFL who has been through an ATF audit, I can confirm that they are thorough in their investigation, but do NOT scan 4473s (at least not with me). The IOIs, however, are trained to look for patterns of repetition, which IOIs take note of. And, yes, they do appear to be looking for patterns of frequent purchases. Ostensibly, this is to flush out people that are making a business by “flipping” firearms through private sales (which happens, but it’s not rampant).
Now for my assessment. I have absolutely no problem believing that the ATF has violated the law (and code of federal regulations) at times, and I have no doubt that they will in the future. I have absolutely no doubt that the ATF wants a comprehensive national gun registry. Finally, I do not doubt the veracity of any of these anecdotal instances of illegalities.
However, what I do doubt is that the ATF is capable of pulling off a comprehensive national gun registry by audit, and without the assistance of the civilian population. While they may see form 4473s during audits, and while some ATF employees may make illegal copies of said forms, or write down information that they shouldn’t, I doubt that they could construct a comprehensive database out of said activities that was anything other than laughable and ridiculous.
To be sure, if a national gun registry ever becomes laws, civil war will ensure. But in the absence of the civil war, the DoJ/ATF would have to rely on FFLs to construct the database for them.
I work with federal employees regularly. Many of them are stolid and shouldn’t be working in their capacities at all. Testing should be done before hiring federal employees (assuming that any such position exists after my recommended secession), and any federal applicant who cannot factor a cubic polynomial or solve problems using basic trigonometric functions should be told to hit the road – or go back to school. Notice that I haven’t raised the bar too high. I’m not asking them to solve differential equations or Laplace Transforms – just do high school mathematics.
I’m not trying to be insulting, but any database that doesn’t have the input, guidance, formatting and QA to ensure its fidelity from the civilian population doesn’t stand a chance of being anything other than a joke. That’s why the progressives want it codified into law. They want the database to be constructed by the very people that it would rule.
In summary, I think Andrew has made a valuable contribution to the state of knowledge of ATF misdeeds, as has the GOA. I think that the ATF would use any chance to violate the law to press its agenda (Fast and Furious is proof of principle). I don’t doubt that the ATF has attempted in the past to encroach on the sacred space of form 4473s. I don’t doubt that they will do it again if given half a chance. What I do doubt is that the ATF can pull off a national gun registry that has any credibility whatsoever without having us construct it for them.