The Biden administration has disclosed that it possesses firearm purchase records by Americans that adds up to almost one billion, contrary to what members of Congress were aware of, on the heels of an investigation last year showing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has records on more than 54 million transactions.
ATF acknowledged in a letter to Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX), which was obtained by The Washington Free Beacon, that it currently has records of more than 920 million gun purchase records. Cloud launched a probe after the outlet reported on the stockpiling of records, which he called a “federal firearm registry” that is “explicitly banned by law.”
The agency has been transferring hard copies of the records to a digital database used to find guns related to criminal activity, even though ATF denies that its records are intended to track owners. More than 850 million of the records can be accessed digitally, the agency reported. The documents can then be digitally searched with optical character recognition technology.
In a statement to The Daily Wire, National Rifle Association (NRA) spokesperson Amy Hunter expressed concern that the out-of-business records could be used to form a database to track gun owners. Gun advocacy groups are worried that the transactions obtained by ATF, in the case of when licensed gun stores close, are leading to a federally illegal national database.
“Clearly, the Biden Administration would prefer to retain records indefinitely as opposed to following current law that permits gun stores to purge records after 20 years,” said Hunter. “Once again, everyone would benefit if ATF would devote more time and effort to apprehending and prosecuting criminals rather than creating the beginnings of a firearm registry that is specifically prohibited by federal law.”
The Firearm Owners Protection Act (FOPA) prohibits ATF from crafting a registry on sales or owners and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1968 that registries are banned for gun ineligible Americans. FOPA states:
No such rule or regulation prescribed [by the Attorney General] after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established.
Aidan Johnson, director of federal affairs for the gun advocacy group Gun Owners of America, described a similar viewpoint as that of the NRA in an interview with the Daily Wire. He said the records are “clear evidence” ATF is “violating a current federal prohibition on a national gun registry.”
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “And we are going to need Congress to act and delete this gun registry immediately. Gun Owners of America has long been opposed to the background check system as a whole, including the maintenance of these records.”
ATF also said in its response to Rep. Cloud that tracing “firearms used in crimes” is the goal of the records’ digitization. The bureau noted that more than half a million traces were done last year, whereas 2020 saw under half-a-million. Still, the agency conceded it does not have approximate data on “successful prosecutions” related to “crime gun traces it completes annually” or “any way to link a trace for a specific prosecution for a particular year.”
Amid the records controversy, the Biden administration has sought to change a federal law permitting gun stores to throw out records after 20 years, so the federal government cannot gain access. Biden and anti-gun groups are pushing for records to be able to be accessed continuously.
ATF did not respond to a Daily Wire request for comment.
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