The nation’s gun regulator began naming publicly for the first time firearm dealers it says have flouted federal laws and will lose their license. The move is part of President Joe Biden’s gun violence agenda, in which he has called such dealers “rogue.”
Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives now posted online identifies 93 federal firearm licensees that ATF inspections found have willfully violated portions of the Gun Control Act.
The crackdown on gun dealers has been decried by Republicans in both the House and Senate as a “radical anti-Constitutional agenda.” It also comes days after the mass shooting Monday at a Christian school in Nashville, Tenn.
In a statement, ATF Director Steven Dettelbach said the agency is just doing its job.
“Congress, by law, gives ATF the responsibility to inspect firearms licensees. The information released today will assist the public in understanding how ATF handles inspections where significant violations are uncovered on the part of firearms licensees,” wrote Dettelbach, who became the agency’s first confirmed director in seven years last July.
How has the ATF acted in the past?
ATF shop inspection results and revocations have for years been hidden from the public, available only after protracted legal battles tied to the Freedom of Information Act.
In a sweeping investigation published in 2021, USA TODAY and The Trace found the ATF had been largely toothless and conciliatory, bending over backward to go easy on wayward dealers and sometimes allowing guns to flow into the hands of criminals.
What is President Biden’s agenda on gun control?
The ‘zero tolerance’ policy was announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland in June as part of President Biden’s push to crack down on gun trafficking. Biden signed an executive order this month mandating more public naming of gun dealers that break federal rules and called for the ATF to post inspection results.
Last year, ATF revoked licenses at a higher rate than in any year since 2006. ATF’s “Enhanced Regulatory Enforcement” policy focused on specific violations that pose public safety risks including:
- Refusing to allow ATF to conduct a lawful inspection
- Transferring a firearm to a prohibited person
- Failing to conduct a required background check
- Falsifying records
- Failing to respond to a firearm trace request
Which gun stores were named by ATF?
ATF regulators revoked gun shop licenses in 2021 and 2022 under the zero-tolerance policy across 30 states.
Texas had 11 shops revoked, the most in the nation. Texas historically has been home to the most gun shops in the country, with more than 11,000 currently licensed. ATF took eight licenses in Kansas and six in both North Carolina and Ohio.
Store owners targeted for revocation can request a hearing and appeal a final license revocation in federal court. Often, shops that lose their licenses shut down, legally transfer their firearm inventory to other sellers or reincorporate with new ownership.
Among the 93 named by the ATF was Game Changer Outdoors in Belhaven, N.C. Its license was revoked following a 2021 inspection found 12 violations, including selling guns without a background check.
Game Changer’s manager Kayla Carrow confirmed Thursday the bait and tackle store no longer sells firearms.
“We weren’t pulling much money out of the firearms business and it was a lot of work to keep it going,” Carrow said. “Dealing with the government, everything had to be exactly right and it wasn’t worth it anymore.”
What does the gun lobby think?
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun manufacturers and shops, wrote recently that it opposes “weaponizing” the zero-tolerance policy by “naming-and-shaming” shops for what it described as minor clerical errors.
“Firearm retailers are the front line for ensuring firearms are sold only to those legally able to purchase them and ‘zero-tolerance’ risks the cooperative relationship between firearm retailers and (ATF),” representatives of the lobby group wrote.
Nick Penzenstadler is a reporter on the USA TODAY investigations team. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @npenzenstadler, or on Signal at (720) 507-5273.