As part of their Firing Range Operations, Safety, and Lead Management Thought Leadership Series for FFLs and firing ranges, MT2 Firing Range Services and FFL Consultants sponsored a Virtual Summit focused on helping gun range owners and retail services dealers successfully optimize firing range and retail operations.
- Proper lead management of recyclable lead
- Range construction expansion & design-build considerations
- Legalities with ATF – inspections and liabilities – how bad is bad when it comes to inspections?
- Preventing straw purchases & range suicides
- HR: Hiring/firing during “uncertain times”
- Legal: What lies ahead for FFLs if there’s a Biden / Harris administration, liability pitfalls for range and retail operators, and what legal protections should be in place to protect FFL’s from the ATF inspection process and civil lawsuits?
- The new Form 4473 – Highlights and Updates Explained
- Firearm Business Insurance: Can you survive a crisis? Vast differences in firearms-related business operations require policies tailored to meet your needs
SPECIAL KEYNOTE PRESENTATION:
Thomas L. Chittum III | Assistant Director of Field Operations
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF)
“The Important Role FFLs Play in Protecting Themselves and Their Communities”
Watch the full video interview on the Firing Range Services Virtual Summit; click here
Tom Chittum: I want to start a little bit by talking about just the year in review, 2020. It has a particular significance. Of course, the pandemic has affected all of us, but it had a tremendous impact on gun sales. The business has been brisk for the firearms industry, then the civil unrest came and added a new dimension to the challenges we were all facing. Whenever I speak to groups, I always like to start with a little discussion about the law. Of course, I’m the lawyer. I work as a professional law enforcement officer, and I think that’s where we start. Often, whenever we start talking about firearms law, we turn right to the statutes or the regulations.
But I’d like to bring your attention to the opening section of the Gun Control Act. If you have a copy of the federal regs, you can open it up and read it yourself. If you don’t have a copy of it, it’s available on ATF’s website. I want to read a section from the Gun Control Act’s purpose because I think it’s essential to keep everything we talk about in perspective. “Congress hereby declares that the purpose of this title is to provide support to federal state and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence. It is not the purpose of this title to place any undue or unnecessary federal restrictions or burdens on law-abiding citizens with respect to the acquisition, possession, use of firearms appropriate to the purpose of hunting, trapshooting, and target shooting, personal protection, or any other lawful activity.” I want to start by pointing out that Congress’s motivation in passing the Gun Control Act was to help law enforcement fight against crime and violence.
That’s ATF’s core function. We do that a few ways. One of them is by reaching out to the FFL community. How do FFLs make themselves and their communities safer? Well, first, you, of course, provide legal access and essential training to law-abiding, responsible adults who want to possess, purchase or train with firearms. But it is not an exaggeration to say that FFLs are also the front line of defense against armed criminals in our communities. The reality is, we know that most of the firearms that are either stolen from gun stores or trafficked are recovered in crimes locally. Gun stores are interested in protecting themselves, of course, from being victims, their businesses because it’s costly, and their communities. When we talk about the importance of federal law, it isn’t very sexy to talk about record keeping. But the foundation of the Gun Control Act is record-keeping and licensing. I encourage all industry members to take particular diligence in keeping track of their records.
When a firearm is recovered in a crime, and it always will be, law enforcement has to investigate that firearm’s life through firearms tracing. It’s something that my partner Alphonso will talk about in a moment. Keeping diligent and accurate records about purchasers’ identity is important to us to be able to identify firearms tracking schemes when they occur. One particular area I’d like to talk about is gun store burglaries, FFL burglaries. For many years, I have worked on this topic to educate the industry on things they can do to protect themselves. I want to mention some statistics that are available on ATF’s website. You can go and search for infographics. But from 2015 to 2017, we saw a significant spike in gun store burglaries with the high-water mark in 2017; 577 FFL burglaries were across the country. More than 7,800 firearms were stolen. That was alarming to us because it isn’t firearms enthusiasts driving stolen cars through the front of gun stores or committing smash and grab robberies.
These guns are destined to end up on the black market. We wanted to take an aggressive approach to try and drive those numbers down. In 2018, we saw those numbers reduced through our strategy by about 20%. The number of burglaries dropped to 427. We kept our foot on the gas, and again, in 2019, the numbers dropped by about 20% again, down to 343. However, in 2020, we began to see a spike, and we saw a significant spike around the riots and looting that occurred in late May and early June. What was our strategy? Back in 2017, when we saw all these burglaries and robberies spiking, it was multi-pronged. As Benjamin Franklin said, we believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We started conducting outreach doing training sessions. Of course, we partnered with National Shooting Sports Foundation for Operation Secure Store to educate businesses about best practices.
I know in the firearms industry, the retail industry, not all of the stores are large retail outlets. Many of them are small proprietorships, and the cost of an extensive security system may seem daunting. But what we know is that people can take some necessary steps to prevent burglaries from occurring. Let me talk a little bit about some of those. First is the structural security of your business. That means locked doors, windows. Some places with bars, making sure roofs are secured, walls and using barriers outside of the business. We encourage the use of a security system, install one and use it. Too often, what we find is the security system was either not functional, not turned on, or had gotten out of date. Video cameras are vital to us because they serve a deterrent value to your customer, and they also provided crucial visual evidence when crimes do occur. Of course, inventory safety is essential. Read our article here on: Gun Range Service Recommendations Go Beyond Addressing Lead Maintenance-Firing Ranges Must Consider If Their FFL Is Next on a Criminal’s Hit List?
In many of these burglaries, we have seen a very methodical approach to shattering glass, grabbing handguns, and then running. Of course, they’re the lightest, and they are the most frequent type of firearm used in crimes in America. Then make sure you use best security practices like lighting, visibility to your store. Making sure that bushes are cut back, so police that drive by can see. You can also undertake general business practices, conducting physical inventories, reconcile to your books, and make sure that your records are accurate. That way, if you are the victim of a burglary or a robbery, you’ve got accurate records to report to the police and insurance. Conduct employee screening, make sure that you guard against internal theft. Have a security training and security policy and training programs, so the new employees know exactly how to handle transactions. Make sure that you notice, record, and importantly report suspicious behavior. We find in a lot of these burglaries that there’s some level of casing the joint.
They’ll come, look, and test whether or not there’s security. By being alert to these attempts, we can often connect them to actual burglaries at later dates. I know that sometimes the concern is, these are costly measures to put in place. But one of the primary things you can do at the end of your day is wipe down your countertops. Glass surfaces are good for preserving fingerprints, giving us biological evidence to pursue in investigations. You have the added benefit of walking in the next morning to a spick and span storefront. The last thing I would say about these business practices is to plan for disasters, natural disasters. In the past, we have seen major natural disasters like hurricanes cause a spike as gun stores are left unattended as police are otherwise occupied. We have seen burglaries occur in those situations. Of course, we hadn’t seen anything like the civil unrest at the time that it happened. Thankfully, through the proactive approach, both ATF and industry members, many gun stores relocated their inventories or secured them before the unrest occurring in their area.
Even if you take all the best precautions, you may still end up being the victim of a burglary. I’d like to talk a little bit about what to do if that occurs. First, you’ve got to ensure employee and customer safety. Do not enter a crime scene or a potential crime scene. Do not disturb possible evidence. Immediately report the crime to the police, but importantly, report it to the ATF as well. The law requires FFLs to report thefts to ATF within 48 hours. If you’re a fan of crime TV, you know those first 48 hours are essential. We want to know immediately when a crime has occurred to start our investigation then, not days later. Use your reconciled inventory to provide a list of stolen firearms to the police. Then, of course, you submit the ATF theft loss report. Also, notify ATF of any recoveries. From time to time, what we will see is the records were inaccurate, and a firearm that was reported stolen actually ends up being in the inventory and was just misplaced.
I mentioned the prevention aspect to combat and reduce FFL burglaries. We do presentations like these at a local level. We do seminars or webinars. When COVID hit, ATF tried to use our resources as effectively as possible. While we were at a maximum telework posture, we began a telephone outreach initiative. We were using our IOIs to make telephonic contact with licensees. We found that we could reach many gun stores that may never be inspected or haven’t been inspected recently and may not have a strong, established relationship with the local ATF. We want to reinforce to everyone that ATF is still open for business. We are here to help you answer the questions you have and make sure you conduct your business lawfully and responsibly. The telephonic outreach had an added benefit. As the civil unrest occurred, ATF continued to use telephonic outreach, having IOIs for gun stores, encouraging them to protect their inventories and protect the records as well.
I mentioned those are vital for law enforcement investigations. Also, as the unrest occurred and we pushed out an FFL alert, an automated caller, to notify people that we’re in areas where they may suffer civil unrest to take those steps, it paid off interestingly. We had been tracking burglary statistics, and the numbers were up. During a four or five day span around the spike in riots in May and June, we documented 91 FFL burglaries or burglary attempts. I’m happy to say that more than a third of those attempts were unsuccessful, and the would-be burglars walked away with no firearms at all. I think in my view, that’s a huge success. I’ve tried to reach out through the media to highlight that success. Of course, they’re often more concerned about the number of stolen firearms, and we’re concerned about that too. But I think it’s important to highlight an untold number of firearms that weren’t stolen because of the firearms industry’s responsible and quick action.
Part of our outreach is also to educate the public and to seek their help. When these burglaries do occur, we often offer rewards for information. NSSF has been an essential partner to us and matches the rewards ATF offers. Increasing the likelihood that someone will call us with information. That’s been successful, and when we make arrests, we try and publicize those to let people know this is not a minor crime; they’re quite serious. In fact, in the recent past, ATF agents have gotten into shootings trying to investigate FFL burglary. These are guns that are destined for the black market. After prevention and collaboration of our strategy to reduce FFL burglaries and robberies, the third prong is through aggressive investigation. In 2017, ATF instituted a 100% FFL burglary response protocol. We respond to all burglaries and investigate them. Of course, we look for solvability factors.
It’s always helpful when we have video evidence. Working with our state and local partners, issuing rewards, what we found is that we have been successful in making a lot of arrests and recovering some of the firearms. I say some because we don’t often recover all of the guns. The fact of the matter is, when guns are stolen from gun stores, they usually hit the streets very quickly. We see them turning up in crimes, often violent crimes. But those are just a few of the things that I wanted to emphasize about FFL burglaries. The bottom line is, the risk of these burglaries is increasing again after significant decreases. There are steps that the firearm retail industry can take themselves, installing structural protections, following safe business practices, and having a disaster plan. Then, finally, reporting these burglaries and these attempts when they occur immediately to the police and ATF. Now, stolen firearms are only one source of crime guns. Of course, criminals seek to arm themselves in other ways too.
The daring among them may drive a car through the front window of your store, but others may recruit conspirators such as straw purchasers. I want to talk a little bit about store purchasing. Of course, when I speak about firearms trafficking, there is no such legal term as firearms trafficking. Firearms trafficking is a law enforcement term, and it’s a layman’s term. When we cross acute firearms trafficking schemes, what we’re prosecuting are the underlying crimes—for instance, making a false statement to an FFL or in records required to be kept by an FFL, of course, conspiring to transfer firearms to a prohibited person. Burglaries can be considered a firearms trafficking offense too.
Legitimate bonafide gifts are not straw purchases. Some encourage if someone is buying a firearm on behalf of someone else, that you work with the gun store so that the actual buyer completes the forms. They are perhaps using a gift card or a gift certificate instead of purchasing the firearm themself.
As with FFL burglaries, there are things that gun stores can do to be alert and to detect attempted straw purchases. The first thing is, it’s just a good business practice to know your customer and ask questions. When somebody comes in and is looking for a firearm, it makes sense to ask them questions about what they want to find. What you’ll often detect is an attempt to evade your questions, being vague about the purpose. Of course, somebody doesn’t have to tell you why they want the firearm, but legitimate buyers will often want to make sure that they’re buying the gun that they need. They may ask you questions about appropriate as for a particular event. In 2020, of course, we saw a lot of first-time buyers buying firearms. There was a spike. If a person comes in and tells you they’re buying a 22 to go deer hunting, that should cause you to ask some additional questions. It just doesn’t make sense.
Again, if someone comes in and appears to have limited financial means, and yet they’re plunking down $12,000 cash to buy a 50 caliber rifle, you should ask some additional questions. It’s not intrusive; it’s good business to know your customers and ask the questions. When an FFL does detect a potential straw purchase, we ask that it be alerted to ATF. I have spoken at venues where FFLs have said, “Hey, I call, and I never hear back.” That doesn’t mean that ATF doesn’t listen. That doesn’t mean that we don’t investigate. Sometimes we investigate and find that there was nothing improper about the purchase even though it seems suspicious on its face. The fact of the matter is, sometimes it results in prosecutions, although they may not be publicized. In the last year, it emphasized the importance of the firearms trafficking offenses to our multi-pronged strategy of reducing violent crime, which is keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals or prosecuting violent criminals when they obtain firearms. The Department of Justice has significantly increased the prosecution of false statement cases. We’ve seen a lot more straw purchases and the like being prosecuted.
A couple of the other common indicators when you see bulk purchases or repetitive purchases of the same or similar firearms may ask yourself why. I once received a referral, somebody had bought a lot of the same gun, and I recognized that it was just before Christmas in an area I was familiar with. Upon additional investigation, what I found is they were Christmas gifts for a bunch of sons. Entirely appropriate legitimate activity, not criminal activity, but it’s helpful to look into these things. If you see something, say something: other indicators, no haggling over the price. Often there’s a particular angle to firearms trafficking where we see firearms being trafficked across the Southwest border to Mexico. Of course, cartels have lots of cash to provide for these things. So often, you’ll see straw purchasers want to minimize their contact with the gun store employees. They won’t negotiate over price. I don’t know that anyone pays retail. That’s at least one indicator you should look for.
Paying with large amounts of cash, someone that appears to be an obvious and severe drug user or someone who hasn’t previously purchased and now is purchasing almost daily or repetitively, all indicators that you should look out for. The most important thing to emphasize is that you should know your customers, ask questions, trust your instincts, and maintain complete records. If you think that you have a straw purchase that has occurred or attempted, please report it to ATF. At the outset, I mentioned some of the things that we’ve been trying to do to deal with COVID. ATF remains open for business. Even at the height of the pandemic, our agents were out responding to crimes. I’ve said before; I think it’s worth saying again, I have never been more proud to be an ATF agent than I was in 2020. In response to nationwide riots, ATF has conducted many investigations. A lot of gun store burglaries, a lot of commercial arsons. It’s not an exaggeration when I say we’ve made almost 200 felony arrests for crimes associated with the riots.
That’s possession or use of straw, Molotov cocktails, shootings, illegal possession of firearms, commercial arsons, and the like. ATF agents are working hard every day to keep the communities that we also live in safe. Of course, our collaboration and partnership with the industries have been part of that. We have made some changes in our staffing. Andy Graham was the Deputy Assistant Director over Industry Operations in the office of field operations. He has transferred over to our Enforcement and Programs Services division. In his place, now, Megan Bennett is my Deputy Assistant Director. She helps me execute ATF’s inspection mission in the field. Of course, that’s changed a little bit as we’ve had to maintain social distance. In some of these places where the impact of COVID has been geographically distinct, we haven’t been able to do in-person inspections as much as we would like to. We have been trying to leverage video technology.
Of course, we are doing the telephonic outreach that I mentioned, and we’re making greater use of webinars. We hope that whatever may be lost from the personal touch of in-person communication, we have gained some benefit from being able to reach a lot more people. It’s never quite the same, meeting over Zoom as it is meeting over coffee. But we’re trying our best to stay engaged, to reinsure the industry that we’re here, that we’re available, that we want to help you carry out your business.
Alphonso Hughes: I appreciate the opportunity to provide this audience some updates from the Office of Enforcement Programs and Services. We went through a bunch of changes, both internally and related to COVID. But I’ll start real quick with the personnel changes. I took this position here recently in the middle of the pandemic. Mid May 2020 was the timeframe Andy Graham and I transitioned out of Field Operations to Enforcement Programs and Services. I was formerly the Deputy Assistant Director for the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations, ATF’s deputy Chief Security Officer.
Before that, where most of you have known me from was probably from my days in EPS as the NFA Division Chief and the Firearms and Explosives Services Division Chief. I spent about seven years in that role. Before that, I was a Director of Industry Operations out of our Philadelphia field division. I appreciate the opportunity here to continue that collaboration here. Andy Graham brings a lot of experience from Field Operations. When we think of a policy shop and think of enforcement programs, we provide that policy support to Field Operations; I think it brings a lot of level-headedness. Because what he brings to this side is the inspection protocol. That can be interwoven with the enforcement strategies and applying the law and regulation to how we do business. In NFA, probably some new faces and some new names. Steve Rosenthal took over the position as the division chief out there. Prior, Director of Industry Operations out of our Miami field office.
Both out in the field and also to our service centers, we’ve remained diligent. I could tell you we’ve had a high operational tempo. I can tell you the numbers this year, our second highest to when 41F came up. There was over $50 million in tax revenue collected based on NFA firearms transfers. Gun sales across the nation have increased tremendously, and record-breaking tracing of firearms out there, close to a half-million firearms traces.
I can tell you; my commitment is to make sure that we move forward in communicating with you guys effectively. My hats off to the FFL community out there. I mean, you made it happen, orderly and compliant. I can tell you the trials and tribulations of 2020, a round of applause for yourself in this particular instance here to make sure that you comply with the laws and regulations. I want to talk about a few things here in ATF. I wanted to talk a little bit about monetization. I think I’ve been singing the song for about three years now, four years. ATF has been trying to migrate to cloud services. What that means for ATF is that we take our legacy systems pretty much supplant them and put them in a cloud environment—hoping that they work a little bit more effectively, efficiently, and without data type errors out there. What I’ll say in that respect is, it was a surprise to our IT environment. What happened was all of those legacy systems had to be recodified. They had to be changed. The language had to be rewritten so that they would operate in that particular environment. It wasn’t just a lift and shift. I think that plays along with the delays that we see in moving ATF to that specific environment. One of the challenges is e-forms, and I think everybody was waiting for e-forms for years. We got the form one up, and that was for the tax paid making of a firearm.
But now, we’ve been trying to press forward and get this taxpayer transfer form. The eForm 4 up here for a little bit of a time now. The challenge is that we had this legacy portal that we want to try to integrate. One thing I talked about with our CIO is that we don’t just want to lift and shift and put the eForm 4 up there. We want to develop this Form 4 in an environment where we can give back to the FFL industries. We’ve had recently here October timeframe, some industry sessions as we move closer to the cut-over to where we’re supposed to be in the cloud environment. Is having folks come in and tell us those high volume users of the eForm 4 tell us a little bit about what they want to see in this new type of system. We heard you loud and clear. I think some of the areas are APIs. I think some of that is batch processing of those non-tax paid forms.
We’ve even had input where folks want somehow to integrate third-party processing into the tax paid environment. All of those things are on our kanban board. We’re looking at those types of initiatives, and hopefully, we can make some of that work. Hopefully, we can deliver to you some of the things that you want. I think you’ve been compliant. If we can give you some of these enhancements so that you can operate a little bit more effectively, I think we’re going to try and take those and strive. I could tell you when e-forms comes out; it may be a vanilla version at first. But what we plan to use that agile approach and prioritize those enhancements that we would like to get done down the road.
I think when you look at e-forms and how we’ve leveraged them today, our e-forms timeframes are below ten days. That’s across all forms when it comes to the non-tax paid side. On the tax paid side, I think we’re below 60 days. I think you’ve seen that. Unless an application runs into an FBI delay of some sort, then, of course, we have to wait until those things are cleared up before we can proceed on the application. I want to put out there, and this is big for the importers and manufacturers communities, those of you who have FFLs of those types, and this is what we call pending research. When you develop a new NFA firearm and don’t have to record the particular model you’re making, I would like to offer you the opportunity to write into the NFA division ahead of time, giving us those models ahead of time caliber and barrel lanes. What we’ll try to do is update our database tables before you go into full production.
That way, when you do enter those types of firearms into e-forms to notice them, it will be a little bit easier. It won’t get hung up in this process, what we call pending research. Because if you enter a weapon now that doesn’t exist in our particular database, then what happens is it gets hung up. Then another section comes in and has to do manual data entry and get those firearms in there. If you can let us know ahead of time, I think it’ll lend to a lot more ease and processing for the supply chain for NFA firearms. Lastly, I wanted to touch on is the interim final rule. This is regarding the prohibition on the issuance of improper guidance documents out there. In 2017, the attorney general issued a memorandum to DOJ components on improper guidance documents. I think it gave ATF pause.
Right then, we were questioning, “wow, does this even apply to Q&A? Does this even apply to information that we use in the conducting of our business every day, like variants requests determinations classifications?”
Of course, they do apply to those types of those operations. I think the FFL community has expressed their concern to both congressional leaders and the folks here within the department on ATF’s need to provide guidance, especially in this highly regulated industry. With that said, my advice to folks out there in the FFL community is to continue doing what you do. Submit those variant requests, submit those requests for information, submit your Q&A’s. Behind the scenes, we may have to take a little bit longer and vet that information and go through the process, working with the Department of Justice to get some of the information cleared. It may be a notice and comment situation where we’d have to publish some guidance information.
Or it may be one of those situations where it’s a restatement of the regulations. We can just put that out there with a disclaimer regarding it being regular information that’s available via the regulation. I envision in the future the environment where we can put up one-stop informational pages. FFLs can go through, look at the information they need to refer to, and then we can pretty much help provide by putting out there that transparent guidance that I think folks need to operate daily.
What direction is the ATF going in with the new administration?
Tom Chittum: I can tell you that the only information I have on the Biden administration is what’s publicly available. I have worked for ATF now for five administrations. Inevitably there are always changes in perspective and focus. But as long as I am here, my commitment is that you can continue to count on fair, professional, and effective enforcement of the laws that Congress provides us.
ATFs violent crime reduction strategy is essentially two-pronged. Prosecuting the people that illegally possess or misuse firearms and trying to keep guns out of their hands through firearms trafficking, FFL burglaries, and related crimes. I don’t see that changing. ATF is an agency of limited resources, and we try and focus on them in the most effective way that we can. Central to our strategy is the reliance on concepts and tools that we refer to collectively as crime gun intelligence. Firearms tracing provides incredibly valuable leads. We are using cutting edge technology like ballistic imaging to connect shooting scenes that never would have been connected before. With the limited number of special agents and industry operations investigators that we have, we’re going to continue to try and apply those in the way that gets us the greatest bang for our buck. I say it every time I speak to the agents; they focus on matters of consequence.
The people that are misusing firearms can wreak tremendous havoc on our communities. ATF’s relationship with the industry is significant to us. In my inaugural call with all the directors of industry operations, I reinforced that the gun industry is not ATF’s enemy. We both benefit from a collaborative relationship. We rely on you to be alert and prevent gun crime and report it to us when you can. If you don’t already have an existing relationship with ATF, I encourage you to build one. For all of the downsides to not having in-person contact because of COVID, my hope is that because we have been able to connect on how ATF enforces the laws that Congress gives us.
We have limited resources to do that with, and we’re going to bring them in the way that makes the most sense to try in combating violent crime in our communities. I think that’s something that both the ATF and gun store owners can get behind.
Project Guardian embodied three longstanding pillars of ATF’s strategy: a partnership, working with our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners and prosecutors. Aggressive enforcement of federal firearms laws and use of intelligence to guide those. You can read the public reporting about the record number of prosecutions that have occurred. Again with ATF, I’m proud to say, in a country where roughly 400 million guns are in the hands of 100 million people, we know the vast majority of them will never be used in a crime. With the tools and concepts of crime gun intelligence, we can increasingly target those misusing them or trafficking with precision. That allows us to aim our resources at those that are posing the most significant harm.
Of course, ATF enforces the law. It’s not our place to write the law or push legal boundaries. We are here to enforce the laws that Congress gives us. The National Firearms Act or NFA of 1934 was written on the heels of the increase in prohibition’s violent crime. That law passed when Babe Ruth was still swatting home runs, and Elvis Presley hadn’t even been born yet!
As you can imagine, challenges are applying that law to modern manufacturing and firearms innovations. Now, just because it may be hard to enforce, it doesn’t mean that ATF can shrink from enforcing it. We try and work with the industry whenever. The law, of course, does not compel manufacturers to seek ATF input before they manufacture.
When these issues come to our attention through criminal investigations related to something other than a classification, we can’t simply turn a blind eye. I know in the absence of information, speculation often runs wild. But the thought that ATF is trying to take some subversive approach to make felons out of millions of law-abiding gun owners simply isn’t the case. I have been proud to carry out this job. I think ATF’s role in keeping guns out of criminals’ hands and those that misuse the go a long way towards protecting the constitutional rights of responsible, law-abiding adults.
Alphonso Hughes: I would like to add to the Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division’s topic and their role in providing input evaluations as far as determinations and then classifications.
If there is any question on the status of a firearm, go ahead and submit those firearms for determination. Right now, are they backlogged? Absolutely. It’s a small group of men and women who have to testify in court and have to perform these evaluations both on the import side and the civil side. Then also get these determinations out to the FFL community. My recommendation is, continue doing that, and then we’ll try our best to make sure that we can make sure we meet the bill there.
I can tell you in 2021, we will be getting more FEOs, Firearms Enforcement Officers in that particular division. We’ll even be looking at a whole divisional organizational structure to bolster the ranks.
We want to put out there that guidance for what criteria is and make sure that everybody knows to have a framework to comply with.
To what degree would an IOI be looking at the state regulations?
Tom Chittum: My entire career has been as a special agent conducting criminal investigations. Whenever I do talk to anybody, I’ll say, “Look, I’m not an expert in state law. I enforce federal law.” Federal regulations require compliance with state laws, but ATF is a federal law enforcement agency. ATF is not in the business of enforcing state law.
Alphonso Hughes: The bottom line is FFLs must follow the state laws imposed. Now, the enforcing entity would probably be those state agencies. This is especially true for NFA. For example, NFA outlined in the regulations that we will not put the transferee in violation of state law. If there are state licensing requirements, you have to comply with those. If there are owner requirements based on state law, you have to comply with those as well. ATF has jurisdiction to enforce those federal laws on top of that.
What does the near future look like for ATF in regards to the FFL community?
Tom Chittum: I can talk a little bit about field operations; ATF did not close for business. Of course, the pandemic changed how we worked, but ATF continued to respond to FFL burglaries, commercial arsons, riots, and other crimes that fall squarely in ATFs jurisdiction. We will continue to do that. Of course, the pandemic and the requirements of social distancing, and the pandemic’s varied geographic impact did affect our ability to conduct in-person inspections. Which, of course, we tried to fill with telephonic outreach. I don’t think that much about that will change.
Our strategy continues to be tailored to decision-making at the local level. There are various factors, including the mission criticality of particular activities, the local restrictions placed by state or local governments, and what happens in the winter.
I know that across the country, there are concerns about spikes. We’re, of course, monitoring. We must keep our workforce safe to continue to carry out their critical mission. In many ways, we’re along for this ride the same way all of America is. One thing that you can count on for sure is the continued professional, effective, and fair enforcement of the law.
Watch the full video interview on the MT2 Firing Range Services Virtual Summit; click here