Can ATF seize or copy firearms record books and other ATF required records
As a federal firearms licensee, your business is subject to ATF compliance inspections “not more than once during any 12 month period” 18 U.S.C. 923(g)(1)(B), CFR 478.23. There are exceptions, but they are rare. During a compliance inspection ATF officers are authorized to examine your firearms inventory, any gun log book and any executed ATF Form 4473 on file. In accordance with the law and regulations, ATF must be granted access to records of acquisition and disposition of firearms, and your firearms inventory.
It is important to understand a licensees responsibilities as well as understand ATF’s responsibilities, and the law, so there are no misunderstandings leading to unnecessary situations. One particular concern is the seizing or copying of the ATF Form 4473 and the record of acquisition and disposition of firearms. Regulations address this issue in 27 CFR 478.23(d).
27 CFR 478.23(d)
The inspections and examinations
provided by this section do not authorize
an ATF officer to seize any records or
documents other than those records or
documents constituting material evidence
of a violation of law. If an ATF officer
seizes such records or documents, copies
shall be provided to the licensee within a
Based on the above it’s clear that ATF is limited by law as to the extent of their ability to seize records; to “seize” also implies making a copy of a record. A letter from ATF responding to a congressional inquiry addresses the issue. So the question for you as an FFL is how should you react when a IOI begins to scan or copy ATF Forms 4473, your A&D book, or actually begins to remove such records from your business premises during a compliance inspection?
Usually, ATF Officers will advise you of what they are doing, and why they’re doing it in order to avoid confusion or misunderstandings. In case the IOI conducting the inspection does not advise you as to why records are being copied, scanned or taken from your business premises, here are some suggestions and advice on how to best handle the situation.
ATF Inspectors Making Copies of Records How Best To Address The Issue
First, there’s no benefit to becoming confrontational at any point; everyone, including ATF Officers are bound by the law, your position does not become stronger if you appear to be trying to interfere with what the IOI is doing. Your position is strong enough without the need to be confrontational. Keep your dialogue and tone with ATF Officers professional. Even if you believe that their tone or actions are not professional; you maintain your professional demeanor and document everything.
1) Ask the IOI why s/he is copying the records. “Are there violations in those records?” The IOI at this point should give an answer consistent with the law. Based on the law, the copies should be made only when they contain “material evidence of a violation of law”.
2) Ask the IOI to show you the exact possible violations they need to examine in the records. There’s a very good reason for this request. If there are violations, you need to know what they are immediately so you can correct the violations if possible, and not continue to make those mistakes. Let them know this immediately.
3) Ensure the IOI understands that you are aware of that law, and understand that only records containing material facts to support violations are to be removed or copied. Have a copy of the Firearms Reference Book handy so you can refer to the actual regulation if you need to. As a practical matter, ATF IOIs are very familiar with the law and ATF policy on this issue.
4) In all cases, immediately document the specific responses you received from the ATF Officer regarding your questions or requests if you feel you should. It is always best to get direct quotes.
Firearms Records Removal Advising Your Customers
One additional step you can take to protect your business and your customers is to document the particular records that are being removed, seized, copied, etc. Then you should decide whether it’s in the best interest of all parties to advise your customers that the records were copied or removed by ATF Officers. You should consult this with the ATF officer actually removing or copying those records. You should let them know that you are contemplating advising your customers, and if there are any reasons you should not do so. Be mindful that all parties involved must always comply with the law.
Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ve done pretty much all you can to protect yourself and your business. By reminding the ATF Officer of the law, and ensuring that they know you are aware of your rights and responsibilities, everyone is advised, and can then work effectively within the constraints of the law.
What If I Believe Something Illegal Occured?
If you feel that your rights or your customers rights have been violated or something illegal has occurred, contact the Industry Operations Area Supervisor, then the Director of Industry Operations for the area as well. If you feel that your concerns have not been satisfactorily addressed, you can contact the Office of the Inspector General, your Congressional Representative or Senator. Always seek legal council from a specializing attorney for any of the issues discussed in this article.
As you might imagine, these are extremely rare cases. ATF Officers are aware of the law, and know that failing to adhere to ATF policy is cause for disciplinary action up to and including removal from their position. The key is for all parties concerned to operate within the law, and understanding that all parties are aware of the law and properly advised is the best way to ensure no one is operating outside of lawful parameters.
Below is some good reference material for you examine and even keep copies of in your business.
In April 2012, Alaska Congressional Representative Don Young sent a letter to the director of ATF asking why Industry Operations Investigators had been asking Alaskan gun dealers to make copies of or remove required records from the business premises. In June of that year, ATF responded to Rep. Young about the concerns raised in the letter.
In answering the inquiry, the response states “ATF’s authority is limited to copying or removing required records without a warrant for the purpose of examination to ensure compliance with record keeping requirements of the Gun Control Act, 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44, or as evidence of a crime.” The letter also states that employees of the ATF and the Department of Justice who violate rules, regulations or policies are subject to discipline, up to and including removal from employment.
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