Editors Note: Despite the negative outcome for customers the action of turning over FFL documents, in this case, customer 4473 forms from a firearms retailer that is closing is legally required under current federal law.
U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- Walmart could be transferring an estimated 20% of customer sales records for firearms purchases to the ATF. This information comes to AmmoLand News from a recently leaked internal ATF conference call.
Walmart discontinued gun sales at 500 of its stores nationwide. As of January, of this year, 2388 Walmart stores sell guns.
When an FFL closes a location the ATF allows the transfer of documents to a “successor” federal firearm licensed dealer. Walmart could transfer the 4473 records from those stores that are ending sales to another regional store location that still sells firearms. If Walmart chose to, they could shield their customer’s information from direct access by ATF. Instead, Walmart appears to be handing over, for locations ending gun sales, the customer’s records to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Explosives (ATF).
Internal ATF communications appear to show the massive retailer’s internal “compliance manager” is working with the ATF to transfer their records to the federal agency. The ATF will then scan all received documents into a searchable database. In recent years the ATF has started using high-speed scanners to catalog out of business FFL’s records into a searchable database using optical character recognition software (OCR).
Federal law prohibits the creation of a national gun registry. Yet, this appears to be what is happening, not only with Walmart’s records but all other out of business FFL records that are turned over at the close of business.
18 USC. Section 926(a)(3) states that:
No such rule or regulation prescribed 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 dispositions be established.
Following the Law
The ATF is permitted by statute to collect “out of business records” from FFLs under 18 USC. Section 923(g)(4) (Where a firearms or ammunition business is discontinued [and is] absolute, such records shall be delivered within thirty days after the business discontinuance to the Attorney General). It is only recently that the ATF has started scanning the records into a searchable database. For many years, FFLs would ship their out of business records to the ATF’s “Out-Of-Business Records Center” in Martinsburg, WV. The records sat undisturbed unless there was something specific ATF needed to go looking for (such as tracing a firearm).
ATF National Tracing Center Division Flyer
AmmoLand News’ internal sources provided evidence that the ATF has been employing third-party contractors with high-speed scanners to digitize these records, perform “optical character recognition” (OCR) on them, and transform the documents into a searchable database.
In other words, the ATF has or is in the process of creating a searchable registry of all firearms sold by now-defunct dealers.
By using this technology, the ATF could search on a person’s name and pull every gun purchase by the person from any dealer that has gone out of business. Soon this will include the 500 Walmart locations that appear to be in the process of turning over their records to the ATF. The ATF does not view this list as a de facto registry even though serial numbers, names, and addresses are searchable. The ATF’s recent changes to the 4473, which puts the firearms information on the front page, could speed up the creation of the database. This change will increase the speed a document can be indexed and retrieved for information.
Gun Owners of America (GOA) became aware of the practice in May of this year, 2020. The GOA submitted an FOIA request to the ATF to determine what information is searchable, the policies surrounding the scanning of documents, and the current number of searchable records. The ATF has not responded to the FOIA request, leaving us wondering what the agency is hiding.
AmmoLand News reached out to Gun Owners of America and spoke to legislative counsel, Michael Hammond.
“The McClure-Volkmer Amendments prevents the federal government from keeping a gun registry,” Hammond told AmmoLand. “We have a federal agency that is supposed to be enforcing the law but is actually breaking the law. What type of country do we live in where law enforcement agencies are allowed to break the law?”
AmmoLand reached out to Walmart for comment, but the retail giant did not return AmmoLand News’ calls.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.