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February 14, 2024

ATF ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Revocations Continue at Blistering Pace

By Larry Keane

When President Joe Biden says he’ll wield his authority like a flailing hammer against firearm manufacturers, believe him.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) released updated data for inspections, warning letters and revocations of Federal Firearms Licensee (FFLs) and the news is disturbing. The campaign to shutter firearm retailers over minor clerical errors, called a “zero-tolerance” policy, is having devastating effects on small businesses and the ability for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights by freely approaching a firearm retailer for a purchase.

ATF revoked 157 federal firearms licenses in 2023, following an inspection. That’s up from 88 licenses revoked in 2022 and five in the last six months of 2021. Reports show that 165 FFLs were able to maintain their licenses following a revocation hearing in 2023. That was up from 83 in 2022 and just one in the last six months of 2021.

The final statistic is the most daunting.

Eighty FFLs voluntarily surrendered their licenses in 2023, rather than endure the costly and painstaking process of clearing a business’s name due to what are many times minor clerical errors. That was up from 69 in 2022 and 24 in the last six months of 2021.

There’s more. ATF took the unprecedented move to “name-and-shame” businesses that saw their licenses revoked or that ceased operations. That’s an overtly political maneuver to satisfy gun control advocates who clamor to falsely smear business owners as “bad apples” when many times it is clerical errors in records that caused them to run afoul of inspections.


ATF also published the names of businesses when inspections didn’t result in a license revocation. These include settlement agreements, warning conferences and FFLs voluntarily ceasing operations. In 2023, there was just one settlement agreement, 19 warning conferences held and one FFL that voluntarily ceased operations. Compare that with 2022, when there was one settlement agreement, 10 warning conferences and one FFL voluntarily ceasing operations in the last six months of 2021, when there were no settlement agreements, four warning conferences and no FFLs voluntarily ceasing operations.

All this adds up to the ATF carrying out a politically-driven agenda to drive firearm retailers out of business rather than the ATF inspection process being used as it was designed – to assist firearm retailers to operate their lawful business in compliance with the laws and regulations governing the sale of firearms.

Since taking office, the Biden administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to firearm retailer inspections. A single violation can be interpreted as breaking the law and the 1968 Gun Control Act allows ATF to revoke a federal firearm license for a single violation. Previous to the Biden administration, however, minor clerical errors found during inspections were annotated for corrective action with ATF inspectors instructing firearm retailers on how to stay within regulations and laws. That’s no longer the case. Instead of using the ATF as a government bureau to assist the firearm industry to stay within regulations, President Biden and his ATF have turned it into a steel trap by which they snare firearm retailers to run them out of business.

Damaging Policy

This is exactly what former ATF Acting Director Michael Sullivan warned of when he publicly opposed David Chipman as President Biden’s nominee for ATF director. He warned that Chipman, a former gun control lobbyist, would inject a political agenda into an agency that must be apolitical.

“ATF’s role in and of itself presents a significant challenge. The bureau doesn’t exist to diminish constitutionally guaranteed rights, but instead to combat violent crime and ensure the industry and gun owners are able to freely exercise their rights within the laws enacted by Congress,” Sullivan wrote in a Fox News editorial. “ATF’s reputation is dependent on remaining an apolitical, unbiased and fair law enforcement and regulatory agency. That fair treatment and respect for fundamental liberties begins at the top. The agents and inspectors in the field deserve nothing less, and the American public – whether gun owners or not – deserve equal treatment.”

“Zero-tolerance” policies, with regard to firearm retailer inspections, damages the cooperative trust between retailers and ATF agents who are working to keep guns from being illegally purchased and trafficked. Firearm retailers are on the front lines partnering with ATF to keep firearms from getting into the wrong hands. The majority of tips ATF receives on suspected illegal gun trafficking come from retailers.

The Biden administration has weaponized the ATF as a tool to dismantle the firearm industry instead of preserving the relationship of the agency that regulates the firearm industry to operate lawfully. Zero tolerance has unfortunately damaged the cooperation between firearm retailers and ATF special agents.

Peter J. Forcelli, a retired ATF deputy assistant director and a whistleblower who helped bring to light ATF’s disastrous and ill-fated Operation Fast & Furious, lamented the punishment the Biden administration has levied against firearm retailers.

“The gun dealers were our first line of defense against gun trafficking,” Forcelli told The New York Post in August 2023, when license revocations were reported to have skyrocketed 350 percent in the first nine months of that year compared to 2022. “Why are we now beating an ally into submission?”

Congress Acts

Help may be soon on the way.

U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann (R-Kan.) introduced the Reining in Federal Licensing Enforcement (RIFLE) Act, H.R. 7042. The legislation would protect Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs) from being forced out of business by the ATF’s overreaching directives. The bill would clearly define a willful violation, ensure the ATF works with firearm retailers to comply with regulations before revoking a license, allow for review and appeal with an administrative judge and allow those whose licenses were revoked to reapply for new licenses under the new “willful” definition.

Rep. Mann’s RIFLE Act would restore that necessary and trusted relationship between the lawful firearm industry and at the ATF to remain compliant without concern that politically-motivated policies would be wielded to deny the lawful sale of a firearm to a citizen exercising their Second Amendment rights.

Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the U.S. Senate.

You may also be interested in:

ATF’s ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Unrelenting and Revealing

ATF ‘Zero-Tolerance’ Policy Doesn’t Apply In-House

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