When a gun store goes out of business, it is required to transfer those records to the ATF, which maintains the records indefinitely.
Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX-27) has taken a particular interest in the ATF’s new rule, first sending the agency a letter expressing concern that the change would violate the prohibition on a federal gun registry.
“The Biden administration’s finalized rule on ‘ghost guns’ and out-of-business records is an unconstitutional gun registry in disguise,” said Cloud. “The finalization of this rule would massively expand an already billion-record gun database in the hands of ATF, allowing them to have every single purchase record from every single American gun store since 2002.”
Cloud has filed legislation, H.R. 6945, that would end the requirement for gun stores going out of business to forward transaction records to the ATF and would require the agency to destroy its current database.
To date, 61 members of Congress have cosponsored the legislation, including seven members from Texas: Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01), Jake Ellzey (R-TX-06), August Pfluger (R-TX-11), Ronny Jackson (R-TX-13), Randy Weber (R-TX-14), Chip Roy (R-TX-21), and Brian Babin (R-TX-36).
According to the agency’s response to Cloud’s initial letter, the ATF has — as of last fall — well over 900 million records stored in their system, of which the majority are stored “in digitalized format.”
The ATF said that the records are used to conduct several hundred thousand crime traces annually for “State and local law enforcement agencies across the country pursuant to active law enforcement investigations.”
In a release, the Biden administration claimed that “more than 1,300 firearms a year are untraceable because the federally licensed firearms dealer destroyed the relevant records that were more than 20 years old.”
However, asked about how many traces lead to successful prosecutions, the ATF said that the agency “has no ability to determine” the success rate.
“A federal gun registry is explicitly banned by law, yet this administration continues to hinder Americans’ Second Amendment right and take us further down the path to potential gun confiscation,” said Cloud.
At the press conference announcing the rule change and the nomination of former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach to lead the ATF, Biden did not make any clear mention of the rule change for out of business records.
Instead, the large focus regarding the rule change was related to another provision that the administration claims will help crack down on the use of so-called “ghost guns,” where individuals purchase parts of a firearm to assemble on their own.
The rule change expands marking requirements to include any “parts kit” that contains a “frame or receiver” — that is, “any externally visible housing or holding structure for one or more fire control components.
Critics of the push against self-manufactured firearms, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), point out that regardless of whether a firearm is marked or not, possession by felons is still prohibited under law.
“Nothing that the President is proposing today will make Americans safer in the face of skyrocketing crime because criminals by definition do not abide by the law,” said Tim Schmidt, the president of the U.S. Concealed Carry Association. “It’s disappointing that the President is doubling down on ineffective policies instead of supporting law-abiding Americans who simply want to protect themselves and their families.”
At the press conference, Dettelbach, Biden’s new ATF nominee, echoed the administration’s position on firearms.
“As we emerge from this pandemic, we’ve got to recognize that many Americans still face fear and isolation,” said Dettelbach. “Not because of a virus, but because of an epidemic of firearms violence.”
Dettelbach said that those who work at the ATF “don’t write the laws.”
“Their mission every day is just to go out and enforce those laws and protect the public from a wide range of threats,” said Dettelbach.
But the ATF writing laws is precisely what lawmakers have accused the administration of doing with the new rule.
In a comment in opposition to the rule change, Cloud and other GOP members of Congress called the proposition “omnibus gun control legislation clothed as a regulation to implement the existing statute.”
According to the Department of Justice, the rule will go into effect 120 after it is published in the Federal Register.
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Daniel Friend is the Marketing and Media Manager for The Texan. After graduating with a double-major in Political Science and Humanities, he wrote for The Texan as a reporter through June 2022. In his spare time, you're likely to find him working on The Testimony of Calvin Lewis, an Abolition of Man-inspired novel and theatrical podcast.