Disturbing Trend—FFLs Caught In The Crosshairs?

posted on September 3, 2023
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The number of Federal Firearm License revocations has skyrocketed during 2023. The volume even caught mainstream media attention, with the Wall Street Journal reporting Aug. 18 that, “The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives [BAFE] has revoked the licenses of 122 gun dealers in the fiscal year that began in October, up from 90 for all last fiscal year and 27 in 2021.”

The trend is of concern for the average gun owner for several reasons, including lack of nearby FFLs and the likelihood of rising prices as competition disappears. There are others, though, including privacy.

“When an FFL discontinues business, the FFL must send their firearms transactions records to the National Tracing Center (NTC),” BATFE explains on a webpage. “The NTC receives an average of 1.2 million out-of-business records per month and is the only repository for these records within the United States.”

They apparently do not collect dust in a closet, either. In February NRA-ILA reported, “Gun owners were understandably concerned to learn this week that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives maintains a database that contains nearly one billion firearm transaction records.”

Arm Brace Search?
In June the IRS arrived with a search warrant at Highwood Creek Outfitters, located in Great Falls, Mont. KMON radio reported that, “The original search warrant reportedly stated that they were after financial records. VanHoose [store owner Tom VanHoose] now has a theory as to what the IRS might really be after. He thinks it has something to do with the arm brace ban put in place by the Biden administration and the ATF… As of June 1, 2023, those that did not register their arm brace with the feds are in violation. VanHoose now thinks the IRS used him ‘as a ruse to get in the door so they could check 4473 forms.”

The agents collected nearly 13,000 Form 4473s, reflecting purchases back to 2012. Coincidentally, “Alex Bosco invented the pistol brace in 2012 to help a disabled veteran shoot an AR-15 more accurately,” according to The Florida Times-Union. “He later formed a company,SB Tactical, and partnered with SIG Sauer to market them.”

In March a BATFE Major Investigations Team descended on Adventure Outdoors in Georgia. “We feel like we’re being targeted by big government. … It just seems to be textbook for government overreach, you’re sending in 16 investigators to a family-owned business that’s had a good relationship with the ATF and the local community for 40-plus years,” Eric Wallace, store manager and son of company founder, told the Clayton News-Daily on March 27.

The firm, which bills itself as “the actual largest gun store in the world” was scheduled to host an event with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis the week of the inspection. Planning was put on hold during the BATFE visit. Past political speakers appearing at the store include Donald Trump Jr., Herschel Walker and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kitchen Table FFLs
Home-based, part-time FFLs are hit hardest, with stories of their experiences widespread on forums. Many cite penmanship and simple clerical errors cleared up decades ago as reasons for revocation.

The appeal process takes months, and the time and cost involved is often prohibitive, particularly those smaller hobbyists who maintain their license for family and close friends. Those facts will likely inflate that 122 number significantly in the next few months.

BATFE Realignment
BATFE inspection of inventory and records at FFLs is routine. The exchanges, by most accounts, are businesslike, professional and courteous. One of the reasons for the sudden change may be reflected in a manpower shift reported by the bureau itself.

In fiscal year 2020 BATFE had a total staff size of 5,082 with 760 Industry Operations Investigators whose duties include auditing and inspecting FFLs. Two years later it had 5,099 employees, up by 17, yet the number of Industry Operations Investigators (IOI) increased to 816—an addition of 56.

The manpower shift reflects BATFE’s priority realignment and the plight FFLs are enduring today.


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