The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is in hot water (again) after one of its officials admitted that the agency currently holds nearly one billion records of gun purchases and that 94% of those records have been digitized.
“In total, ATF manages 920,664,765 OBR as of November 2021. This includes digital and an estimated number of hard copy records that are awaiting image conversion. It is currently estimated that 865,787,086 of those records are in digitalized format,” Assistant Director of Public and Government Affairs Daniel L. Board, Jr. said in a letter to Congress.
The controversy began after 52 members of Congress sent a letter to the ATF demanding that the agency justify a new rule that would prohibit FFLs from destroying gun purchase records after 20 years. Current law allows gun dealers to destroy records older than 20 years.
Since the ATF requires FFLs that go out of business to transfer all records to their facility in West Virginia, prohibiting those dealers from destroying records would, eventually, give the ATF a registry of all gun purchases made throughout the country.
“We are concerned that this Administration is leveraging its power in a way to establish a federal gun registry,” the congresspeople said in a letter back in November 2021. Such a registry would be illegal under federal law.
Board claimed in his response that the ATF’s “Out of Business Records Imaging System” does not “capture and store certain key information, such as firearms purchaser information, in an automated file.” But Board also tries to justify the system by pointing out that the records are used by law enforcement to trace “crime guns.” It’s unclear how those traces are useful if purchaser information is not captured.
The congresspeople who sent the original letter weren’t satisfied with the ATF’s response, so they issued another letter this week seeking additional clarification.
They point out that the ATF has thus far not provided any reasonable justification for its new prohibition on destroying firearm records older than 20 years. The average time between a gun purchase and its presence on a crime scene is just over seven years, and the ATF cannot say whether adding records over 20 years old would have any measurable impact on solving crime.
In the proposed rule (which also happens to be the new “frame or receiver” definition), the ATF claims that records over 20 years should be stored because the “durability and longevity” of firearms keeps them in “circulation” for over 20 years. They also claim that “some traces of firearms involved in crimes” have not been completed because the records have been destroyed, but they do not offer any additional detail.
The congresspeople ask the ATF to answer the following questions:
- Of the annual trace data that you provided in your response letter, how many and what percentage of traces were conducted that required records older than 20 years?
- Please provide a breakdown of the trace requests conducted and percentage of traces for firearms that required records which were 10 years old, then 11 years old, and for every year after up to 20 years.
- Of the nearly billion records you reportedly have on file, how many of them involve transactions that are older than 20 years?
- Your response states that the National Tracing Center (NTC) does not have the ability “to determine the successful prosecution of hundreds of thousands of crime gun traces,” nor can it “link a trace for a specific prosecution.” We understand these limitations. Without these numbers, what concrete evidence can ATF provide to demonstrate that records older than 20 years are useful or necessary for ATF to complete firearm traces?
- Your response states that “the NTC only traces crime guns, and every time must be identified as such by the requestor selecting the appropriate crime codes.” Please provide a list of all the crime codes a law enforcement agency must choose from when a trace is requested.
- Please provide a breakdown of all the trace requests conducted in the last three years by the crime codes that NTC uses.
- The Out of Business Records Imaging System is simply one database. Can you provide the number of records included in each of ATF’s other databases which include firearms purchaser information, like the Multiple Sales (MS) System, Access 2000 (A2K), and the Firearm Recovery Notification Program (FRNP)?
We’ll update you when the ATF responds.