Ernst presses DOJ on ATF's warrantless visits to recent gun buyers

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As we’ve been reporting for the past few weeks, the ATF has taken an unusually aggressive approach to cracking down on “straw purchases”; showing up at gun owners’ homes and asking questions about their recent purchases. So far most of the mainstream media has ignored these incidents, but now that Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is demanding answers from Attorney General Merrick Garland, the agency’s “knock and talks” could soon come under greater scrutiny from both news outlets and politicians in Washington, D.C.

“Several reports and videos have surfaced detailing ATF agents engaging in ‘knock and talk’ investigations of straw purchases,” Ernst wrote in the letter obtained by Fox News Digital. “During the course of these ‘knock and talk’ investigations, ATF agents knock on the front door of a private residence and ask the resident to display a recently purchased firearm as proof that the resident did not conduct a straw purchase.  In all of the ‘knock and talk’ incidents brought to my attention, none involved the presentation of a warrant.”

Ernst says ATF agents often arrive at the house in full gear, wearing bulletproof vests and do not inform residents at the homes that producing the firearm was optional.

“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,’” she stated.

In her letter, Ernst demands specific information from Garland about these home visits, including the number of investigations that have been conducted since these “knock and talks” ramped up about a month ago. Coincidentally (or not), we started hearing the first reports about ATF agents conducting these front porch fishing expeditions not long after Steve Dettelbach was confirmed as ATF Director. Was this supposed crackdown on straw purchasers already in the pipeline before Dettelbach took over as the top dog at the agency, or is this his first big initiative after being installed at ATF headquarters?

Ernst also wants to know whether or not the ATF is bothering to get a search warrant before they show up at the homes of recent gun buyers, as well as the process by which agents determine that there is probable cause to go out and pay someone an in-person visit. As FOX News outlined, it appears that simply purchasing more than one gun in a relatively short period of time may be enough to trigger an investigation.

Footage from one knock-and-talk incident in July shows ATF agents arrive at a Delaware man’s home. The man had reportedly purchased seven firearms since January.

Agents on the scene admitted to the man that they did not have a warrant. They also offered some insight into how they choose to make a visit.

“The idea is that when you purchase more than two guns at a time it generates a multiple sales report, and it comes to us, and we have to check them out,” the agent said to the citizen. “That’s all that is. You did nothing wrong – absolutely zero.”

The man ultimately produced one of the firearms. The agents then matched the serial number and left.

That Delaware gun owner didn’t have to show the ATF agents at his door any of his guns, and at least one county sheriff in Washington State has been urging local gun owners to contact his office if they receive a visit from the feds.

Benton County Sheriff Tom Croskrey is weighing in on an incident in Delaware that’s being discussed in right wing circles, saying he will defend citizens against federal gun rights violations. Law enforcement is not allowed to inspect your property, which would include guns, without probable cause, he told Benton County residents on a news release. If U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, agents show up on your property without providing a legal reason and will not leave, call the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, he said.

He or his deputies will investigate, he said. “It is my duty as the sheriff of Benton County to defend the citizens and their constitutional rights,” Croskrey said in the signed news release Wednesday. “Your Second Amendment right to bear arms will not be infringed upon, and any action taken by the federal government that is incongruent with those rights will not be enforced by my office,” he said.

Will Garland provide any substantive answers to the senator’s request for information? I’m not holding my breath, though I think the American public is entitled to know why the agency has adopted such a confrontational tactic to supposedly address straw purchases, especially when Garland and the Justice Department seem so willing to let straw buyers walk away with a slap on the wrist and a little time on probation. Perhaps Ernst can ask about that when and if Garland responds to her letter, because it sure looks like this DOJ effort is less about cracking down on straw buys and more about harassing legal gun owners.