‘Revoke, Fine, or Suspend': ATF Documents Reveal ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy to Suspend Gun Store Licenses

‘Revoke, Fine, or Suspend': ATF Documents Reveal ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy to Suspend Gun Store Licenses
A gun store rangemaster shows a customer a shotgun in Las Vegas, in this file photo. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

Internal documents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) detailing the agency’s Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) inspection guidance from January 2022 show how its “zero tolerance” guidelines are being used to revoke gun sale licenses across America.

The inspection guidance, first obtained by Fox News, is based on the Biden administration’s “zero tolerance” policy regarding the revocation of firearm seller licenses that was first announced in 2021.

“ATF has zero tolerance for willful violations that greatly affect public safety and ATF’s ability to trace firearms recovered in violent crimes,” the guidance (pdf) states. “Therefore, revocation is the assumed action, unless extraordinary circumstances exist, when violations are cited.”

Such violations include transferring a firearm to a “prohibited person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe the transferee is a prohibited person,” not performing a proper background check, failing to respond to a firearm trace request within 24 hours of receiving such request, “making a false or fictitious written statement in the FFL’s [licensee’s] required records or in applying for a firearms license” as well as misrepresenting or withholding material information when applying for a license, and refusing the ATF right of entry and inspecting “during hours of operation at the licensed premises.”

The ATF will issue a Report of Violations to the FFL for all violations that the agency identifies during its inspection.

However, the agency “does not have to establish a history of prior violations to determine willfulness” of the FFL in such violations, the guidance states.

Compliance With Gun Control Act

According to the guidance, a “warning conference” will be held wherein an ATF Field Division’s director of industry operations (DIO) or area supervisors can assess an FFL’s potential to achieve compliance with the Gun Control Act of 1968.

A warning conference is the steepest penalty that ATF inspectors can recommend against a gun dealer, surpassed only by a license revocation.

During the warning conference, the ATF is required to provide the FFL with “specific instructions” necessary to achieve compliance with the Gun Control Act.

If the FFL does not respond to the warning conference notification letter and there is evidence that the violations it has committed are willful, the DIO is authorized to “proceed with revoking (or denying a renewal application for) the Federal firearms license.”

After meeting with the FFL or after offering an opportunity for getting compliant with the Gun Control Act, the DIO can still move ahead with revocation or deny renewing a license if it believes that the “public interest is best served” by doing so.

In case it is determined that the FFL’s violations were not willful or that the FFL is likely to come into compliance, the WC is deemed to be the “final administrative action” on the matter.


Gun lobby group Gun Owners of America criticized the “zero-tolerance” policy.
“The policy says the ATF ‘has zero tolerance for willful violations that greatly affect public safety and ATF’s ability to trace firearms recovered in violent crimes’, and that ‘revocation’ of the FFL’s license ‘is the assumed action’ with first-time violations,” it said in a Feb. 11 tweet.

“What does this mean? It means if the ATF deems any FFL action a ‘willful violation’, then they skip all warning letters & conferences and: Revoke, [f]ine, or Suspend the gun store.”

“A willful violation occurs when a federal firearms licensee commits the violation with an intentional disregard of a known legal duty or with plain indifference to their legal obligations,” said Erik Longnecker, deputy chief of ATF Public Affairs Division in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.

“Most federal firearms licensees operate in compliance with federal laws and regulations. In Fiscal Year 2022, only 90 federal firearms licenses were revoked out of almost 7,000 compliance inspections.”

Based on data collected by nonprofit The Trace, the ATF revoked three times as many firearm licenses in 2022 compared to the prior year, and at a higher rate than any year since 2006. The ATF only conducted 7,000 inspections in 2022 compared to over 13,000 in 2019, and yet ended up revoking more gun licenses from dealers.

Rising Revocations, Calls to Abolish ATF

The ATF can revoke a federal firearms license for willful violations of the Gun Control Act, like “transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, not conducting background checks, falsifying records, not responding to trace requests, and refusing to permit inspections,” Longnecker said in the statement.

According to agency numbers, there were 3,806 violations reported in fiscal 2022 among firearm licensees, 606 warning letters issued, 131 warning conferences, along with the 90 revocations.

As for explosives inspections, there were 2,470 violations with 158 warning letters, 23 warning conferences, and 12 revocations.

Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) last month introduced the “Abolish the ATF Act.”

“The continued existence of the ATF is increasingly unwarranted based on their repeated actions to convert law-abiding citizens into felons. They must be stopped. My bill today would abolish the ATF once and for all,” Gaetz said while introducing the bill.

In 2021, when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress, Gaetz co-sponsored a similar bill that sought to abolish ATF. Presently, Republicans have the majority in the House.