Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in a June 29 letter demanded answers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) about a dramatic increase in Federal Firearm License (FFL) revocations since President Joe Biden took office, which he blamed on an “anti-gun agenda” from the administration.
To hold a FFL, licensees must undergo occasional inspection by the ATF to ensure compliance with federal law. In these inspections, some paperwork errors are common and to be expected. Historically, only major and intentional violations of federal law, or gross negligence on the part of the FFL dealer, have led to FFL revocations.
In recent months, it appears the ATF has begun to change tack, dramatically increasing its revocations of FFLs for routine clerical errors and other minor mistakes.
According to John Clark, a firearms industry expert whose firm FFL Consultants helps would-be FFL holders avoid an ATF revocation, the ATF announced at a recent Firearm Industry Conference that it had revoked 273 FFLs in the first 11 months of the Biden presidency. This figure represents a staggering increase of more than 500 percent in FFL revocations.
Biggs, in a letter addressed to Acting ATF Director Gary Restaino, suggested that these increased FFL revocations by the ATF come as part of an anti-gun strategy from the White House, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and Attorney General Merrick Garland. The collateral damage of this effort, Biggs said, are the livelihoods of law-abiding gun shop owners and entrepreneurs.
“At the aggressive direction of the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is currently undertaking a broad and unprecedented effort to revoke Federal Firearm Licenses from law-abiding business owners throughout the country,” Biggs wrote.
Revoked Under Old Complaints
Reportedly, many of these revocations have come after evaluation of previously-closed complaints against FFL licensees.
“In recent months, the number of FFL revocation proceedings initiated by ATF has skyrocketed and ATF has reportedly adopted an officially sanctioned practice of basing revocations on minor infractions discovered in previously-closed inspections,” Biggs said. “According to business owners, these inspections, occurring six to eighteen months prior, often involved clerical errors that were fully resolved and addressed by the businesses with no subsequent infractions.”
“The DOJ’s efforts to force its administration’s agenda onto ATF are particularly disturbing,” Biggs continued.
The anti-gun crusade by the administration, Biggs reported, has forced many ATF agents to carry out tasks that they think do not serve the public interest. In some areas, ATF divisions have even reportedly been placed in competition to achieve the most FFL revocations.
“Local ATF field agents have shared they feel pressured to take actions against individual businesses that they do not feel are appropriate or in the interest of public safety,” he said. “Some have even reported that ATF field divisions are being pitted against each other and being forced to compete on the number of licenses revoked.”
ATF Directors of Industry Operations, who are in charge of overseeing revocation proceedings, “are being told to press forward with this escalating quota system or face professional repercussions,” Biggs reported.
These efforts, Biggs said, are likely to have dire consequences both for the relationship between FFL holders and the ATF, and for the FFL holders who find themselves in the sights of this new quota system.
Destroying ‘Trust and Confidence’
The increase in FFL revocations, Biggs said, “is rapidly destroying the trust and confidence ATF has worked hard to establish with the firearms industry over many decades. This is the same trust and confidence that has historically fostered open communications between ATF and members of the industry, resulting in voluntary reporting of criminal or suspicious activity and frank discussions to help improve compliance.”
In the lack of such an open and mutual relationship, Biggs suggests, FFL holders may find themselves less willing to report criminal or suspicious activity that could put them in the ATF’s sights.
But diminishing trust between the industry and the ATF is only one consequence of this new policy, Biggs said. It also has very real and visceral effects on individuals who find themselves targeted.
“This storm of increased regulatory enforcement is directed at the industry as a whole without regard to the personal destruction wrought upon its individual members,” Biggs wrote. “In addition to the scores of innocent businesses at threat of being destroyed, we have heard that one licensee died of an anxiety attack within days of receiving his final notice of revocation and another licensee committed suicide during the revocation process.”
Biggs went on to relate the ongoing story of one FFL dealership that has been caught up in the collateral damage of the policy.
The Case of Mr. Silencer
“One business currently caught up in this regulatory whirlwind is Mr. Silencer, founded by Bruce Stevens and his wife in 2010,” Biggs said. “Though beginning as a small startup, it has grown into one of the largest firearms dealers in the state of Arizona. The Stevenses take regulatory compliance seriously and, as their business has grown, they have implemented policies to ensure their employees are well-trained and follow the law.
“According to the Stevenses, in June of 2021, ATF conducted a routine compliance inspection of Mr. Silencer and, as in virtually any inspection of a large dealership, discovered certain technical or paperwork infractions that were within the expected scope for a dealership of that size. Notably, per the Stevenses, all firearms were accounted for, there were no allegations of straw purchases, and none of the customers purchasing firearms were prohibited persons. ATF closed its inspection with a warning and took no further action against Mr. Silencer.
“Nearly six months later, however, ATF changed tack and issued a Notice of Revocation, effectively stating it was shutting down Mr. Silencer. Bruce Stevens requested a hearing and provided testimony regarding the specific instances identified by ATF as supporting the revocation. The strongest claims against Mr. Silencer related to two instances out of thousands of annual transactions, for which the company had failed to conduct a NICs background check prior to delivering a firearm to a customer. Bruce Stevens testified at an ATF hearing that both instances resulted entirely from a glitch with his order management software and involved situations in which the customer had actually undergone a recent NICs background check but not for the particular firearm at issue.
“Bruce Stevens shared that none of the infractions identified by ATF were intentional, and, according to him, the ATF hearing officer did not think they were. Rather, the hearing officer simply stated that Mr. Silencer knew the law yet committed the infractions, and therefore must have acted with ‘plain indifference.’ This determination conflicts with ATF’s own findings in its audit as shared with Mr. Silencer and the plain language of the Gun Control Act which requires willful noncompliance before a license can be revoked.”
“Mr. Silencer’s case is not alone,” Biggs warned. “[The] ATF publicly announced at the April 2022 Firearms Industry Conference that they were in the process of initiating 273 revocation proceedings based on cases that had been closed since as early as July 1, 2021, even when the FFL has had zero compliance infractions since their case was closed.”
“This pattern, along with the claim that ATF field divisions are competing to revoke licenses, indicates a troubling trend of ATF attacking businesses to advance an anti-gun agenda,” Biggs concluded.
Republicans Side with Democrats
Recently, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats approved a bill expanding gun control and pushed it through both chambers of Congress in bipartisan votes.
The bill, which represented a substantial shift on the part of its Republican supporters, did not go far enough for some Democrats, who have pushed for federal red flags laws and bans on so-called “assault weapons,” a catch-all term that proponents of such a ban often struggle to define.
Any such legislation, however, would be all but impossible for Democrats to push through the Senate, where it would need the support of at least 10 Republicans to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Now, it seems, Democrats have found a way to sidestep Congress altogether to enforce the Biden administration’s anti-firearm policy goals through the DOJ, according to Biggs’s assessment of the report.
“The Biden Administration continues to attempt to circumvent Congress in order to implement their radical policies,” Biggs said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times. “They know their policies are so extreme and unfavorable to the American public that they have no other choice than to take matters into their own hands. It smacks of authoritarian tyranny.
“My congressional colleagues and I will continue to hold them more accountable—not only on this disturbing situation—but on all of their attempts to bypass legislative authorization.”