A coalition of Republican lawmakers is investigating the Biden administration over its stockpiling of nearly one billion records detailing Americans’ firearm purchases, according to a copy of the investigation that accuses the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) of planning to "sweep up records of every gun sale in America."
The probe, spearheaded by Rep. Michael Cloud (R., Texas) and backed by 35 of his colleagues, comes on the heels of a Washington Free Beacon report detailing how the ATF maintains a database of 920,664,765 firearm purchase records—far more than has previously been publicly disclosed. The massive number of records, most of which are digitized in a searchable database, sparked concerns the Biden administration is violating federal laws that bar the government from maintaining a national gun registry.
Now the lawmakers are demanding the ATF come clean about how it is using the database, which the agency claims is primarily used to track guns used in crimes. The ATF also says, however, that the firearm database is often not useful in helping to prosecute gun crimes, fueling concerns the Biden administration’s goal is to track legal gun owners. The lawmakers say their fears are compounded by the administration’s bid to overhaul current gun laws to ensure the records of every licensed firearm dealer in the country ultimately make their way into the federal government’s hands.
Cloud and his colleagues say this change to the law—which would mandate that gun stores keep their records in perpetuity instead of 20 years, as is currently permitted—constitutes a massive federal overreach.
"We would urge that you consider rescinding the proposed regulation that would require [licensed gun stores] to preserve firearm records older than 20 years. Indeed, the evidence provided by ATF thus far demonstrates that such records likely have little utility in prosecuting crime, yet raise serious concerns about whether ATF is creating a prohibited national gun registry," the lawmakers write, according to a copy of the investigation letter obtained exclusively by the Free Beacon.
Congress, they add, has long prohibited the "ATF from maintaining a national gun registry. ATF’s new proposal to require [gun stores] to keep all records of sales in perpetuity means that, eventually, ATF will sweep up records of every gun sale in America that occurs at a licensed dealer."
Cloud, who has been leading the investigation into the firearm database, said the ATF’s disclosure that it is sitting on nearly one billion digitized gun sale records indicates it is actually interested in information about legal American gun owners.
"ATF's response letter was disturbing as they revealed they have accumulated and are building a database of nearly a billion gun records," Cloud told the Free Beacon. "Americans have every right to be concerned about the Biden administration misusing their power to create an illegal federal firearms registry, and it's up to Congress to get to the bottom of this."
As part of the investigation, the lawmakers are demanding the ATF explicitly detail what percentage of firearm traces were conducted using records that are 20 years or older. They suspect it is a very small number, indicating that the Biden administration’s bid to take possession of older records is primarily about obtaining information on gun owners.
"Please provide a breakdown of the trace requests conducted and percentage of traces for firearms that required records which were 10 years old, then 11 years old, and for every year after up to 20 years," the lawmakers instruct the agency. They also want to know how many of the nearly one billion records on file involve transactions older than 20 years. This information could provide the lawmakers with a window into the database’s composition, and potentially its true use.
Given the ATF’s admission that it does not have the ability "to determine the successful prosecution of hundreds of thousands of crime gun traces," the lawmakers want to know "what concrete evidence" ATF can offer to "demonstrate that records older than 20 years are useful or necessary for ATF to complete firearm traces."
The gun record database comprises what are known as out-of-business records. When a licensed firearm dealer goes out of business, its records must be transferred to the ATF for upload into the database. The ATF, however, also maintains other archives with firearms purchaser information, including the Multiple Sales System, Access 2000, and the Firearm Recovery Notification Program. The lawmakers requested the ATF hand over information about these other databases for congressional review.
Aidan Johnston, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners of America, an advocacy group that has tracked the ATF’s database and exposed its growth in recent years, said the agency appears to be most interested in information on legal gun owners.
"The ATF is not collecting and digitizing these records because they want to protect the Second Amendment—they are doing it because they want to register and confiscate our firearms," Johnston said. "Undoubtedly, the Biden administration plans to put this illegal registry to work later this year, when ATF implements Biden's ban on up to 40 million pistols."
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