A bill introduced in the House of Representatives would remove race and ethnicity reporting requirements on Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) background checks for firearm purchases.
The bill, named the FIREARM Act, is sponsored by Reps. Diane Black (R., Tenn.) and Ted Poe (R., Texas). It will make the race and ethnicity reporting optional instead of mandatory on ATF Form 4473, removing what supporters of the bill call a "back-door" form of gun control.
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"You shouldn’t have to answer 20 questions to Uncle Sam in order to get your firearm, it should be your Second Amendment right to do that," Black said. "The race and ethnicity requirement on the background check is not necessary."
"This is a way to throw another wrinkle, another barrier, in front of people who want to buy a firearm and for firearms dealers to stay in business," the congresswoman said. "I think it is a back door way of limiting the number of people that will exercise their Second Amendment rights."
"This is yet another instance of the Obama Administration looking to use its executive powers to impede law abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment rights," said Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association. "The NRA supports the FIREARM Act and the efforts of Congressmen Black and Poe to beat back this egregious violation of privacy," she said.
ATF said that while Form 4473 does require firearm purchasers to disclose their race and ethnicity, the agency does not do anything with the information. "ATF does not collect that information," said Corey Ray, a spokesperson for the bureau. "We do not compile it, review it, analyze it, or store it in any capacity, in any way."
"And we have no plans to," he added.
Black said if firearms dealers turn in background checks without the race and ethnicity sections filled out, they could lose their license. "If the firearm purchaser does not fill out both of those boxes then the firearms seller is held accountable for that and they can actually lose their license," she said. "So, what this bill says is this is not a necessary part of the information the government needs to know."
ATF contends that, while the race and ethnicity information is a required part of the form, failure to submit that information wouldn’t necessarily lead to immediate license revocation, and that license revocation is "rare."
"That alone would not result in any major penalty," Ray said. "We require that [Federal Firearms Licensees] FFLs obtain completed, error free forms. That includes an accurate address, date of birth and other information."
"There is no unique focus given to any of those areas. If an FFL fails to obtain completed 4473 forms, ATF would communicate to the FFL the proper procedures. A warning could be issued if the process is not corrected. But revocation of a license—for any infraction—is rare. Less than one percent of the of the 10,429 firearms compliance inspections made last year resulted in ATF seeking a revocation."
The bill’s supporters think the requirements are unnecessary regardless of how often they are used. "They say they don’t use that information for anything in particular," Rep. Black said. "So, if that’s the case, then they don’t really need to have the information. It obviously shouldn’t be one of the requirements, what color is your skin or what ethnic background you have, in order to purchase a firearm."
"If you are eligible to purchase a firearm then you should be able to do that without having to go through these hoops."
While she would not speculate on how the Senate or the President might receive the bill, Black expects it to do well in the House.
"I think we will get bipartisan support in the House," she said.