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BATF Oversight Hearing Re-Cap

Friday, March 1, 2002

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and General Government held its oversight hearing on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF). In the witness chairs were Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement Jimmy Gurulé and BATF Director Bradley Buckles.

In addition to many other budget and management issues, subcommittee members questioned Buckles on two gun issues.

First, pro-gun Rep. John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) asked Buckles about the recent BATF regulations requiring import permits for non-immigrant aliens to bring guns into the U.S. Noting that his congressional district in New Hampshire includes large areas of hunting land popular with both U.S. and Canadian residents, Rep. Sununu began by asking Buckles what consultation BATF had with hunting and sporting groups, outfitters, and others affected by the new rules. Buckles replied that before September 11, a hunting license from any state was all that was required to bring a gun into the U.S., and that in tightening the requirement, BATF thought it had reached out to affected parties, but that problems had turned up, and that "perhaps we hadn’t reached out the way we thought we had." He also noted that the regulation was also published as a proposed rule so that full opportunity would be provided for public comment.

Rep. Sununu noted confusing and conflicting answers that Canadian shooters had received from the U.S. Customs Service about the new rules, and asked Buckles whether Customs had been consulted, and what guidance had been given to Customs for use at border crossings, and what steps could be taken to make the regulations more functional for Canadian visitors. Buckles answered that BATF was "ramping up" its Imports Branch to provide quick processing of permits. He also said he had notified Customs of the new rules, but that upon re-reading his letter to Customs, he thought that it may not have made clear the urgency of the impending changes and may have sounded too routine. Under Secretary Gurulé said that since it was his responsibility to oversee both agencies, he would make sure to sit down with Buckles and Commissioner of Customs Raymond Bonner to ensure that the rules were implemented more smoothly.

Rep. Sununu continued by asking whether the current Form 6, designed for permanent commercial importation of guns, was really the best process for temporary visitors. Buckles responded that since their "intent was not to hinder sportsmen" they were working on the process "on an expedited basis," and in response to a follow-up question, suggested it might be possible to complete the paperwork and related background checks at the border.

Later, Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.) noted that, as a hunter, he has had no problem taking guns to England, South Africa, and Argentina—all countries with much more restrictive gun laws than ours—and said he hoped that if they could have simple processes for visitors, we could, too. Rep. Sherwood also asked what would happen if Customs confiscated someone`s gun at the border due to confusion or lack of information or proper paperwork—could the visitor retrieve it before leaving the U.S.? Buckles said he wasn’t aware of anyone having guns confiscated at this point.

Members of the Committee will continue the oversight process as the BATF budget request makes its way through the process. Follow-up inquiries from the initial hearing are expected to include a detailed examination of BATF’s failures to provide the nation’s firearm retailers with the new Form 4473 by the date on which it was mandated to use.

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