ATF keeping database of nearly 1-billion records of gun sales

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The federal government is prevented by law from establishing or maintaining a database of gun owners, but that’s not stopping the Biden administration from collecting and digitizing millions of firearms transactions conducted by FFLs across the country.

According to a new story by the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo, the ATF has informed Congress that it is currently maintaining a database of 920,664,765 firearm purchase records, including 54-million that were gathered just last year. That nugget about last year’s input was originally leaked to Gun Owners of America, according to 2A activist and writer John Crump, who adds that gun rights activists are especially concerned because of a recent push by the ATF to have FFL’s store their finished 4473 forms digitally.

The ATF has removed the time limit that the FFLs are required to keep the documents on-site, meaning the FFLs can never get rid of a form 4473 once it gets entered into their system except when turning the records over to the ATF. If an FFL turned over the records, then that would mean that those files would become part of the 920 million records currently held by the ATF.

While the ATF maintains that the database is used to help trace firearms that are recovered, some Republicans on Capitol Hill are concerned about the massive collection of information.

Rep. Michael Cloud (R., Texas), who led an investigation into the ATF database following a November Free Beacon report that the Biden administration had stockpiled records of more than 54 million gun transactions in 2021, expressed shock at the number of gun records being kept by the federal government. Cloud maintains that the ATF’s database could be exploited by the Biden administration to surveil American gun owners as it pursues new restrictions on firearms.

“A federal firearm registry is explicitly banned by law. Yet, the Biden administration is again circumventing Congress and enabling the notably corrupt ATF to manage a database of nearly a billion gun transfer records,” Cloud told the Free Beacon. “Under the president’s watch, the ATF has increased surveillance on American gun owners at an abhorrent level. The Biden administration continues to empower criminals and foreign nationals while threatening the rights of law-abiding Americans. It’s shameful and this administration should reconsider its continued attacks on American gun owners.”

According to the Free Beacon, the ATF says it has already fully digitized more than 850-million firearms transaction records. While the ATF has long had access to paper copies of the records, including those stored on-site at FFLs, the database itself is a more recent development, and one that some 2A groups are taking seriously.

Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, an advocacy group that has closely tracked the ATF’s database, told the Free Beacon that it is becoming clear the Biden administration is on its way to creating a national gun registry.

“Make no mistake—this is clear evidence that a partial national gun registry exists,” Johnston said. “If the American people don’t stand up for their rights now, Biden’s anti-gun ATF will be able to track gun owners, infringe on our rights, and potentially even confiscate our firearms.”

Is this a true gun registry? Not really, but if it doesn’t already violate existing law it dances close to the edge of legality. The database can’t track private firearm sales, for instance, which is one reason why gun control activists continue to push to criminalize the activity and why many gun owners are so insistent that it’s none of the government’s business what they do with the guns that are their own private property.

Home-built guns are also not going to be a part of this database, though the Biden administration is making moves there as well. The ATF is currently finalizing a proposed rule that would require even unfinished gun parts to be serialized and treated as a working firearm under federal law before they could be sold to consumers, though the proposal is going to have a difficult time catching up to the reality that a solid block of aluminum can be turned into a working receiver in just a matter of hours.

I agree with Johnson of the GOA that the American people need to take this seriously. I would just add that while that absolutely includes contacting your representative and senator and urging them to curb this attempt by the Biden administration to create a backdoor gun registry, it also means opposing tools that can be used to establish an illegal gun registry, like universal background checks. Further, it means supporting efforts to make it easier for responsible Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights without having to first get permission from their local, state, or federal governments.

The ATF has long been able to use the de-centralized firearms transaction records to trace individual firearms if needed, and personally, I think the risks of establishing a centralized and computerized database far outweigh the benefit to law enforcement. I’m not unsympathetic to the argument that a computerized database can dramatically speed up that process, but that doesn’t change the fact that the ATF is in essence doing what Congress has specifically said is not allowed. I just hope that if Republicans do take back the House (and potentially the Senate as well) come November this doesn’t suddenly and inexplicably become an issue that can be left on the back burner. There was a case to be made for serious ATF reform even before the Biden administration decided to turn it into a political vehicle for his gun control agenda, but the need has become even more acute since, and it should be a top priority for the GOP if they take charge of Congress on Election Day.