The leaders of the House Judiciary Committee`s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security--Reps. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) have joined forces to introduce H.R. 5092, the "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) Modernization and Reform Act of 2006." This bipartisan bill is a critical first step toward reforming BATFE.
Most importantly, H.R. 5092 totally rewrites the system of administrative penalties for licensed dealers, manufacturers and importers of firearms. Today, for most violations, BATFE can only give a federal firearms license (FFL) holder a warning, or totally revoke his license.
H.R. 5092 would allow fines or license suspensions for less serious violations, while still allowing license revocation for the kind of serious violations that would block an investigation or put guns in the hands of criminals. This prevents the all-too-common situations where BATFE has punished licensees for insignificant technical violations, such as improper use of abbreviations, or filing records in the wrong order.
Among its other provisions, H.R. 5092:
- Clarifies the standard for "willful" violations--allowing penalties for intentional, purposeful violations of the law, but not for simple paperwork mistakes.
- Improves the process for imposing penalties, notably by allowing FFLs to appeal BATFE penalties to a neutral administrative law judge, rather than to an employee of BATFE itself.
- Allows a licensee a period of time to liquidate inventory when he goes out of business.
- Allows a grace period for people taking over an existing firearms business to correct problems in the business`s records--so if a person inherits a family gun store (for example), the new owner couldn`t be punished for the previous owner`s recordkeeping violations.
- Requires a Department of Justice review of BATFE`s gun show enforcement operations.
- Requires BATFE to establish clear investigative guidelines.
- Prevents disclosure of information in FFL records outside of law enforcement agencies.
- Focuses BATFE`s efforts on violations of firearms, explosives, arson, alcohol and tobacco laws, rather than on broader areas such as gang or drug investigations.