Montana’s top law official is concerned that shipping giants UPS and FedEx are working with the Biden administration to bypass laws that bar the federal government from creating a national database of American gun owners, according to a copy of a letter sent to the companies on Tuesday and exclusively obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Republican Montana attorney general Austin Knudsen alleges that new shipping guidelines allow UPS and FedEx "to track firearm sales with unprecedented specificity and bypass warrant requirements to share that information with federal agencies." The letter, signed by Knudsen and 16 other state attorneys general, says the altered shipping guidelines force licensed firearm dealers into providing detailed information about purchasers who are receiving items through the mail. The letter does not have explicit proof that the shipping giants are sharing information with federal agencies but cites conversations between state officials and licensed firearm dealers who claim they were forced to comply with these regulations.
By requiring firearms dealers to provide an unprecedented level of information about their clients, the shipping companies may be giving "federal agencies a workaround to normal warrant requirements," the letter states. This ultimately allows them "to provide information at will or upon request to federal agencies—information detailing which Americans are buying what guns." The state officials are asking UPS and FedEx to provide them with information about any recent rule changes and disclose any role the federal government played in the matter.
Knudsen, in an interview with the Free Beacon, said he is concerned UPS and FedEx may be coordinating with the Biden administration to circumvent a ban on the creation of a federal gun owner database. Sources who spoke with Knudsen’s office, he said, indicated the Biden administration’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms "told [the companies] they have to do this." The ATF is already facing scrutiny at the state level and on Capitol Hill for storing nearly one billion records detailing Americans’ firearm purchases, the Free Beacon first reported in January. The alleged rule change by FedEx and UPS, Knudsen said, could be part of an effort by the government to track American firearm owners amid a nationwide uptick in gun crimes.
"This to me looks like another back alley attempt to get around specific legislation and laws so ATF can say, ‘We’re not keeping track; it’s these companies keeping track,’" Knudsen said, adding that these guidelines could violate his state’s consumer protection laws. "We see this over and over again from this administration: When they can’t pass legislation, they turn around to their buddies in private business and try to get their agenda done that way."
UPS and FedEx, the attorneys general allege, require federal licensed firearm dealers, known as FFLs, "to create three separate shipping accounts: one for firearms, one for firearm parts, and one for all other firearm-related products. Under this three-tier system, gun sellers cannot mix and match shipments, which reveals to your company whether they are shipping a gun, gun part, or a gun-related item."
Sellers are also allegedly required to retain all documents related to specific items they shipped and to make that information available to the shipping company upon request.
"These demands, in tandem, allow [UPS and FedEx] to create a database of American gun purchasers and determine exactly what items they purchased," the letter states.
Both shipping companies, the officials write, have agreed to comply with information requests from law enforcement and other government bodies, even when those requests are "inconsistent with applicable laws, rules, and regulations," according to the letter.
A FedEx spokeswoman disputed the characterization of their new guidelines. In September 2021, the spokeswoman said, the company implemented a "firearms shipping compliance program" that requires licensed firearms dealers to "enter into a FedEx Firearms shipping Compliance Agreement." This agreement requires packages containing firearms be sent from a specifically designated account and directed only to those with a Federal Firearm License. The guidelines are meant to ensure the company adheres "to applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations." When asked if this information could be shared with the federal government, the spokeswoman said that "FedEx will comply with any legal obligation that it has to provide information to law enforcement or other appropriate government officials."
The state officials want UPS and FedEx to provide them with internal documents and communications about the alleged rule changes within 30 days, including any information about whether they enacted "these policies with the goal of information sharing with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) or any other federal agency." This includes the names of any federal official who may have been in touch with the shipping companies.
The letter also recommends the two shipping firms undertake efforts "to limit potential liability moving forward, including the immediate cessation of any existing warrantless information sharing with federal agencies about gun shipments."
Knudsen said the preliminary reports he is getting from firearms dealers in his state create the impression that UPS and FedEx are creating "their own private tracking system so that these two companies can keep track of what’s being shipped to whom." That, he said, "sure looks and smells to me like they’re trying to get around the Fourth Amendment," which prohibits unlawful searches and seizures.
"You’re giving away citizens’ private information on what kinds of products, what firearms they’re buying specifically," Knudsen said. "We know what they’re going to do with it: They’re going to hand it over to the ATF the first chance they get."
UPS and the ATF did not respond to requests for comment.