Report: ATF System to Warn Gun Stores of Local Break-ins Struggles

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A new automated phone call system designed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to alert gun stores about break-ins at other nearby gun stores is not working as promised.

The system, which the ATF calls fflAlert, is supposed to call licensed gun dealers who are located in the same county where another licensed gun dealer was recently robbed. The ATF said the system was designed to help make gun dealers aware of the threat facing their businesses at a time when break-ins are on the rise.

"During calendar year 2016, there have been over 500 burglaries at gun stores nationwide, with more than 7,000 firearms reported as stolen from FFLs [federal firearms licensees]. Because the security of your business operations, particularly your firearms inventory, is critical to ensuring the safety of licensees and the public, ATF will be implementing fflAlert," Thomas E. Brandon, ATF's deputy director, said in a letter announcing the program. "Beginning this year, ATF will notify FFLs via telephone when a licensee in their area has experienced a theft or burglary that resulted in the loss of firearms."

A new report from The Trace, a nonprofit publication funded in part by the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, found the system failed to alert a large majority of licensed gun dealers located in the same county as recent break-ins. Of the 25 gun dealers contacted by the publication, 21 said they had not received a call from the ATF alerting them to a nearby break-in. Though most of the dealers found out about the robberies either from fflAlert, local news reports, or visits from law enforcement officers, seven were completely unaware of the incidents.

The Trace cites the April 13 robbery of Signature Manufacturing in Merriam, Kansas, as one such example. In that case, a thief made off with thousands of dollars worth of firearms in a smash-and-grab operation. A week after the break-in David Birk, the owner of nearby Birk Outfitters, told The Trace he hadn't received a call from the ATF and "wasn’t aware" of the incident. "I'm surprised to hear about it," he told the publication. "I’ve always thought this was a fairly safe county."

The ATF did not answer questions about specific instances of fflAlert failing to notify gun dealers of local break-ins, but it did say the system is functioning across the country and promised to correct mistakes as the program moves forward.

"The system is designed to call each FFL once," Mary Markos, an ATF spokesperson, told the publication. "Unfortunately, we do not have a system in place to continue calling until someone answers, but the system does leave the information on voicemail. As it is a new program, we will continue to modify and refine it to increase its effectiveness."

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.

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