By Larry Keane
President Joe Biden is shifting blame for his party’s unwillingness to tackle spiraling crime straight to the firearm industry. His administration released his Presidential budget request, which outlines his priorities for the coming year. At the top of the list are plans to target the firearm industry for the failures of his administration to support law enforcement.
President Biden proposes to spend $20.6 billion for the Justice Department for federal law enforcement, crime prevention and intervention. Tucked into that spending proposal includes plans for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to hire 140 special agents and another 160 Industry Operations Inspectors (IOIs).
Politics Over Policing
This shows the Biden administration puts the blame for rising crime at the feet of the firearm industry. This is what NSSF predicted when President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were on the campaign trail. It was also why NSSF worked to defeat the nomination of David Chipman to become ATF director. The administration’s vision has always been to use the ATF as a tool not to regulate the firearm industry, but to dismantle it.
The White House posted a Briefing Room blog to explain its gun control plans. In it, officials explain that they know criminals are responsible for surging crime, yet myopically focus only on zeroing in on firearm manufacturers, distributors and retailers.
“Just as he did in his State of the Union Address, he will continue to call on Congress to takes [sic] steps that cannot be achieved through executive action and do not violate the Second Amendment – like universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons with high-capacity magazines, and repeal of the liability shield for gun manufacturers and dealers,” The White House wrote.
The administration’s intent to hire more ATF inspectors than special agents signals that it is more interested in punishing the industry than actually going after criminals. The White House actually lays out where it believes the crimes are happening. It talks about firearms being illegally trafficked up the East Coast, destined for criminals in Baltimore and New York City. Instead of focusing on arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning those criminals misusing firearms, Biden administration officials choose to instead wage a campaign to nullify federal firearm licensees (FFLs). They use “zero-tolerance” inspections to revoke licenses of retailers who are working diligently to adhere to laws and regulations.
The White House’s recent actions demonstrate this. At the direction of The White House, ATF inspections of FFLs have become increasingly punitive versus the cooperative. That plan was announced by The White House nearly a year ago in an effort to target what it called “rogue dealers.” Minor clerical errors were once listed as “findings” that retailers could correct. That’s turning into a policy to find reasons to revoke licenses for firearm retailers for simple clerical errors in records.
Reports are now pouring in that ATF is reopening long-closed compliance inspections and threatening to revoke licenses for mistakes that did not threaten public safety.
The ATF released a letter to FFLs that “forced reset triggers” are now considered to be “machineguns,” but didn’t specify brands of models of these triggers that would run afoul of the National Firearms Act (NFA) and Gun Control Act (GCA). Little more is known about what would be considered illegal – including makes and models. NSSF is urging the ATF to provide better guidance to the industry to enable FFLs to comply and inform their customers. Rather than provide that guidance, ATF’s answer was to tell industry members – in an era of “zero tolerance” – to call ATF.
Two Proposed Rules, one to redefine frames and receivers and another to ban pistol arm braces, are in the works too. Both are problematic. The definition of a firearm frame and receiver is set by Congress, yet The White House is pushing the rule changes through the Justice Department and ATF. That sets up a legal showdown over the separation of powers and whether or not the Executive Branch can unilaterally rewrite laws without the consent of the Legislative Branch. Beyond that, there are still unanswered questions on the Proposed Rule to redefine frames and receivers. The White House contends the rule change is targeted at home-built firearms but hasn’t offered guidance as to how it would handle multiple or reprinted serial numbers on guns, manufacturing overhauls and implementation guidance.
The administration continues to press for the repeal of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which prevents frivolous lawsuits against members of the firearm industry for the criminal misuse of a lawfully sold firearm by a remote third party. President Biden, time and again, has been debunked in his claims that the firearm industry is the only industry that receives this protection. The law, however, is nothing more than codification of basic tort law, that the industry cannot be held responsible for the criminal actions committed by others.
Industry Prevention Efforts
The Biden administration is squandering decades of trust built between the firearm industry and the ATF. NSSF and the ATF have cooperative crime-prevention efforts including the Don’t Lie for the Other GuyTM campaign to educate the public that “straw purchasing” a firearm for someone else is crime. Another is Operation Secure Store®, to help firearm retailers deter and prevent firearm burglaries and robberies. The firearm industry – especially retailers – want to ensure that criminals don’t ever possess firearms illegally. They regularly work with ATF special agents to help solve crimes. These actions, though, threaten to chill that cooperative relationship.
Sadly, this was predicted. The Biden administration is scapegoating the firearm industry for its own lack of answers to address rising crime. These actions aren’t serious about anything short of the administration’s intent to dismantle the firearm industry. By doing that, they would deny the ability for law-abiding citizens to exercise their own Second Amendment rights.
That doesn’t stop crime. It only makes more potential targets for criminals.