The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is currently going door-to-door in some states to question gun owners about recent firearm purchases.
The Biden administration says the goal of these warrantless “knock-and-talk” visits is to crack down on suspected “straw purchasers,” aka criminals with no disqualifying records that would show up in an FBI background check (NICS check) who buy guns on behalf of other criminals or prohibited persons.
U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has concerns about these encounters in that they, among other things, may violate law-abiding citizens’ 4th Amendment rights which protects them from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Sen. Ernst expressed her concerns in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“In all of the ‘knock and talk’ incidents brought to my attention, none involved the presentation of a warrant,” wrote Sen. Ernst in the letter dated Aug. 23.
“Simultaneously, multiple ATF agents, dressed in official ATF gear—including bullet proof vests—did not inform the resident purchaser of the optional nature of his or her participation in brandishing the requested firearm,” she continued.
“The combination of these factors calls into question whether the ATF’s actions are meant to harass or coerce firearm purchasers into, at best, legally questionable ‘investigations,’” said Ernst.
The Iowa Republican asked Garland to answer the following eight questions within the next 30 days:
- What criteria does the ATF use to establish probable cause prior to knocking on a purchaser’s door to investigate a potential straw purchase? Is there a written record of this evaluation? If not, why?
- Does the ATF obtain a warrant prior to knocking on a purchaser’s door to investigate a potential straw purchase?
- How many “knock and talks” has the ATF conducted without a warrant since its July 22, 2021, above referenced announcement?
- If not, what is the ATF’s legal basis for investigating a potential straw purchase through a “knock and talk”? How does the ATF ensure a purchaser’s Fourth Amendment rights are protected?
- Where a straw purchase check is conducted, is the purchaser informed that they may turn down the investigation? If not, why?
- Are ATF agents required to wear uniforms designating the agency when going to the home of and speaking with a firearm purchaser?
- What is the current ATF policy regarding what time of day agents may visit the home of a purchaser to investigate a potential straw purchase?
- Does the ATF notify local or state law enforcement officials prior to knocking on a purchaser’s door to investigate a potential straw purchase? If not, why?
Last month, video footage recorded on a doorbell camera of a knock-and-talk in Delaware went viral on social media, after investigative journalist Lee Williams, with the Second Amendment Foundation, broke the story.
The homeowner was caught completely off guard by the two ATF agents and the state trooper who showed up on his front porch.
“The reason we’re out here is obviously gun violence is at an uptick. We want to make sure – we’ve been having a lot of issues with straw purchases,” says the Trooper to the homeowner. “One of the things, indicators we get is someone making a large gun purchase, and then a lot of times we’ve been there and ‘Oh, those guns got taken.’”
The trio asked the man to retrieve his recently purchased firearms so they could examine the serial numbers and “scratch them off” their list.
SEE ALSO: Missouri AG Sent Blistering Letter to FBI After Agency Attempted to Illegally Harvest Gun Owner Information
The homeowner brought out the first gun and the LEOs examined it. Satisfied that it matched their records, they told the homeowner that carrying out the rest wouldn’t be necessary. They then left the premises.
We will have to wait and see if Garland responds to Sen. Ernst’s letter.