The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for America's firearms industry, has filed a lawsuit challenging the legal authority of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) under the Gun Control Act to compel 8,500 federally licensed firearms retailers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas to report the sale of two or more rifles.
Specifically, the regulation calls for reporting multiple sales of any semi-automatic rifle larger than .22 caliber and capable of accepting a detachable magazine that are purchased following an FBI background check by the same individual within five consecutive business days.
NSSF's lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeks an injunction to block ATF from implementing the reporting requirement. ATF has sent "demand letters" to firearms retailers in the four states to inform retailers they must begin reporting such sales by August 14.
NSSF Senior Vice President and General Counsel Lawrence G. Keane pointed out that if ATF can require this record-keeping and reporting requirement of law-abiding retailers in these four states simply by sending a letter demanding the information, then there is no record or report ATF cannot require of any licensee, anywhere in the country, for as long as ATF wants.
"This is the proverbial 'slippery slope,' and our industry is extremely concerned about it," said Keane.
Keane added, "At the time Congress authorized the reporting of multiple sales of handguns, it could have required it for the sale of long guns, but it did not. Acting ATF Director Ken Melson himself has questioned ATF's legal authority to impose this new requirement."
Despite its lawsuit, NSSF is encouraging all retailers, not just those along the Southwest border, to continue to cooperate with law enforcement and report any suspicious activity to the ATF. "The firearms industry and NSSF take pride in having a longstanding cooperative relationship with ATF," said NSSF President and CEO Steve Sanetti. "Retailers have long been considered a vital source of information for law enforcement in combating illegal firearm trafficking."
Even if ATF had the legal authority to require multiple sales reporting for long guns, NSSF believes the policy would still be unwise to implement. "We believe the policy will make it more difficult for retailers to assist law enforcement," said Keane. Illegal firearms traffickers will simply alter their schemes to avoid and evade the reporting requirement, making it more difficult for retailers to identify and report suspicious activity.
For example, traffickers could simply recruit more "straw purchasers" and have them illegally purchase firearms from multiple licensees, or simply move their illegal trafficking activities to other states where the reporting requirement does not exist.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn