An investigation by The Trace and USA Today reports that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms’ enforcement of laws regulating U.S. gun sellers is completely lax and dysfunctional, with sometimes-deadly consequences. Reporters found that even when gun stores had clearly violated the law—often by illegally selling firearms to people who are not allowed to have them—they rarely received more than a slap on the wrist. The investigation found that of all the inspections on gun stores conducted by ATF officials between 2010 and 2019 that found dealers had violated laws around the selling of guns, some 81 percent didn’t even get a written warning. Only a tiny fraction, 1.6 percent, had the ATF seek to revoke their firearm-selling license.
In some cases in which the ATF declined to take a gun seller’s license despite violations typically considered severe enough to do so, internal reports obtained by reporters show ATF agents cited reasons like the offending dealer’s advanced age, health problems, and “affluent clientele” as reasons to let them keep their license. The president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said the ATF “bends over backward to accommodate even the most egregious activity.” In one case, reporters identified a gun shop in Kansas where, after an ATF inspector declined to penalize the store after catching them selling guns to an admitted domestic abuser, a gun illicitly bought from the shop months later was used in a rampage that saw 17 people shot. “There’s really no teeth to the laws, and gun dealers know that,” one retired ATF agent told reporters. The report comes as the Biden administration is seeking Senate approval for its ATF nominee, who would be the first director to occupy the job in six years.