Top ATF Official Advocates Reducing Gun Regulations in Internal Memo

NRA: 'It's time to roll back regulations that serve no legitimate law enforcement purpose'

A gun store customer examines a handgun / AP

A gun store customer examines a handgun / AP

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A senior official at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, recommended reducing some gun regulations in an internal memo made public on Monday.

Ronald Turk, the ATF's associate deputy director and chief operating officer, argued in the memo that reworking the way the agency enforces or interprets certain gun laws would be beneficial for the firearms industry and the ATF. The memo addressed a number of issues that have been the subject of heated debate in the gun world. It argued that regulations should be reduced or eliminated on firearms silencers, interstate gun sales, the importation of certain firearms from overseas, and individuals who sell guns exclusively online or at gun shows.

"There are many regulatory changes or modifications that can be made by or through ATF that would have an immediate, positive impact on commerce and industry without significantly hindering ATF's mission or adversely affecting public safety," Turk said in the memo. "There are also areas where adjustments to policy or processes could improve ATF operations. Alleviating some of these concerns would continue to support ATF's relationships across the firearms and sporting industry, and allow ATF to further focus precious personnel and resources on the mission to combat gun violence."

The ATF cautioned that the views expressed in Turk's memo are not necessarily shared by the agency, and were intended for internal dialogue. "The opinions expressed within this document are not those of the ATF; they are merely the ideas and opinions of the writer (Mr. Turk)," ATF spokesman Ali Berisha told the Washington Free Beacon. "They are provided for internal use within ATF and DOJ, and were created to promote dialogue within the agency and not intended to be public."

Several sources in the gun rights movement said the ATF has been working with the industry to streamline its operations and smooth over differences. They speculated that relationship may explain why the memo was produced.

"I know that we have our guys that have been meeting with and working with people over there," one insider said. "I don't know if this is a result of that but I know we have been trying to work with them."

Gun control advocates said the reforms recommended in the memo would damage the ATF's mission of overseeing the gun industry.

"This white paper offers a disturbing series of giveaways to the gun industry that would weaken regulatory oversight of the gun industry without adequate consideration of the impact on public safety," Chelsea Parsons of the Center for American Progress told the Washington Post, which first published the memo. "ATF has long described its regulatory function as a core part of its law enforcement mission to fight gun crime, yet this paper seems to prioritize reducing perceived burdens on the gun industry over an interest in protecting public safety from the illegal diversion of firearms."

The National Rifle Association said it hopes the Department of Justice, which oversees the ATF, will roll back gun regulations.

"We look forward to working with the new attorney general as he puts the focus of the Justice Department back where it belongs—on prosecuting violent criminals, not harassing law-abiding gun owners," Chris Cox, head of the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action, told the Free Beacon. "After eight years of overreach by the Obama administration, it's time to roll back regulations that serve no legitimate law enforcement purpose."

The ATF currently does not have a Senate-confirmed director, a fact Turk addressed in his memo. The Trump administration has the opportunity to appoint a director who could bring the agency's official views in line with those in the leaked memo.

Stephen Gutowski   Email Stephen | Full Bio | RSS
Stephen Gutowski is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He founded his own site as a junior in college and has been writing about news and politics since that time. He spent 4 years with the Media Research Center and was most recently with the Capitol City Project. His email address is Gutowski@FreeBeacon.com. His twitter handle is @StephenGutowski.