EXCLUSIVE: FBI Carried Out Warrantless Monitoring on Man Who Posted Guns for Sale on Facebook

EXCLUSIVE: FBI Carried Out Warrantless Monitoring on Man Who Posted Guns for Sale on Facebook
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (ATF) personnel in a file image. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
Emily Miller

A Texas man who posted on Facebook that he was selling his guns was placed under warrantless surveillance by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which investigated the man and made no arrest, yet passed his information to the FBI to monitor him for at least six months.

According to internal documents reviewed by The Epoch Times, two ATF special agents interviewed the Hispanic man who admitted to “advertising” his personal firearms for sale on Facebook. He stated that he had a “habit” of purchasing new guns, tinkering with them, losing interest, and subsequently selling them. The man told the agents that he never made a profit.

“I kept waiting for the part where ATF identified something illegal, and it never came,” Eric Olson, a lawyer for Gun Owners of America (GOA) told The Epoch Times. GOA obtained the records through its ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the ATF and FBI. This production of documents is more heavily redacted than the previous 10, with entire pages covered in black.

“They are monitoring this guy for doing what millions of other hobbyists do—selling part of their personal collection. That’s not a crime, but apparently, ATF doesn't like people turning over their guns at a high rate,” Mr. Olson said.

Secret ATF–FBI Program

ATF spokesman Erik Longnecker confirmed to The Epoch Times that the man who used Facebook was placed under FBI daily monitoring in 2021 for “suspected violations” of federal laws against straw purchasing and dealing guns without a license.
This revelation is part of an ongoing, exclusive series about the unearthed program in which the ATF and FBI use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to monitor individuals for “potential” violations of the law. NICS is a database of individuals who are prohibited from purchasing firearms because of felony convictions, drug use, domestic violence, and other disqualifications.
Every suspect that the ATF submits to the FBI’s NICS Monitoring Services is put on a daily, manual check for firearm sales for 30–180 days, with the option of unlimited renewal of surveillance. A spokeswoman for the FBI said the NICS section declined to comment on whether the man is still being monitored.

Facebook and Guns

The redacted records given to GOA don't specify how ATF initially became interested in the man, leaving uncertainty about whether the Facebook posts triggered the investigation. When asked if Facebook tips off the agency about gun posts, the ATF spokesman declined to comment.

The Facebook policy allows licensed gun stores and online dealers to sell firearms and ammunition on the platform, provided that they comply with all applicable laws and regulations. However, the Meta-owned company prohibits the sale or trade of firearms and ammunition between private individuals.

“It doesn't make it a crime simply because Facebook doesn't allow it,” Mr. Olson said.

Facebook didn't respond to inquiries about whether it provides posts related to gun sales to federal law enforcement and about how it enforces its firearms policies.

Innocent Man?

The ATF agents from the McAllen Field Office seem to exonerate the man in their report of straw purchasing. This term refers to buying guns for someone else, usually a person who wouldn't get through the NICS background check system.

However, the man told agents that he “mainly would sell firearms to his friends, but denied purchasing firearms specifically for his friends.” The record also says the suspect told agents that he buys guns only for himself and would “mess around with them by adding a new spring or a trigger, would get bored, and then post the firearms for sale.”

As for the allegation that he was dealing without a license, the suspect told agents that he would “break even or lose a lot of money depending on how he treated the firearms.”

The man’s explanation of his activity almost exactly matched what federal law expressly allows. The Gun Control Act of 1968 specifically states that a person doesn't have to get a license from ATF if he makes “occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby.” The ATF even has a summary on its website that says that “if you only make occasional sales of firearms from your personal collection, you do not need to be licensed.”

Federal law says that someone needs to get a license from ATF only if he's engaged in the business of dealing in firearms. This is defined in the statute as a person who “devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms” with the principal objective of livelihood. In this case, the Texan was fully employed and transparent about his activities, even using a credit card to purchase guns.

Looking for a Crime

When asked why the ATF asked the FBI to monitor the man after this interview, Mr. Longnecker said that the report also says that the subject admitted to falsifying his address on form 4473. That refers to the background check form completed for the NICS system.

Lying on the 4473 form carries a potential 10-year prison term for perjury. However, the ATF spokesman confirmed that the suspect wasn't prosecuted for giving the wrong home address.

Mr. Olson said the man is like anyone with “limited resources but unlimited appetite for new toys.” He referenced people with similar hobbies who buy and sell art, guitars, cars, designer clothes, or jewelry. “People like to try new guns. They overextend themselves financially, and then they sell part of their collection to fund their hobby."

The Epoch Times exclusively reported in January about the warrantless search system from the FOIA documents that have been released to the GOA on a rolling basis. The FBI and ATF both declined to say if the secret system of monitoring innocent people is continuing.
Emily Miller is an award-winning investigative journalist and author in Washington, D.C. Her newsletter "Emily Posts News" gives readers original, exclusive reporting and insider analysis.
Related Topics