The Trump administration on Thursday quietly released a proposal to make the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives a legal authority to regulate certain aspects of the sale of firearms to certain individuals. The proposal could also enable the ATF to issue harsher criminal penalties for violations of federal gun laws.
The administration’s initiative would grant the ATF the ability to compile and enforce a nationwide database of all licensed firearms dealers, which would allow federal authorities to track every transaction of a gun. Individuals already caught selling a firearm to someone who is prohibited from doing so would be put on “the administration’s most serious ammunition,” as one veteran GOP lobbyist described the provision.
The proposal to give ATF powers to establish a national gun database was expected, but it was the Bureau’s heightened power to raise sanctions that alarmed gun-rights advocates.
The Obama administration had tried to give ATF the authority to punish gun violations, but the proposal was struck down by the courts because gun dealers or buyers may be required to provide the name and address of a local sheriff, or even be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for knowingly violating a firearms provision.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder had argued at the time that the initial proposal to punish violators of federal gun laws went too far and should be struck down.
“To my mind, there are many examples of where one could have broad, overbroad restrictions in a statute’s text that could give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives an excuse to use it for its purposes where it’s not intended,” Mr. Holder said in a 2015 speech.
According to a source familiar with the proposal, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which advised the administration on gun policy issues, reviewed the proposal as part of a pre-release review before it was released to the public on Thursday.
But the proposal, the source added, is meant as a “spare part” that may not become law, and the Justice Department will likely seek input from industry and law enforcement groups as the issue is further vetted in coming months.
The proposal marked the latest arm of the administration’s broader crackdown on gun control. And it drew a swift rebuke from the National Rifle Association.
“This bureaucratic boondoggle, authorized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is an unnecessary, unnecessary giant leap toward a federal firearm registry and an end run around the will of the American people,” the NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said at a national convention of gun-rights groups on Thursday.