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Common Sense BATFE Reform Gathers Steam

Monday, June 7, 2010

As part of his business, Virginia firearm dealer Allan Broughman often customized rifles for customers. But in 2006, an inspector from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) observed Broughman "assembling a barrel, a receiver and a stock for a customer." Since federal law specifically allows dealers to engage in "making or fitting special barrels, stocks or trigger mechanisms to firearms," Broughman was surprised when the BATFE accused him of "manufacturing" a firearm without a manufacturer`s license. Now, Broughman is fighting the agency in court with the help of NRA-ILA.

Broughman`s difficulties stem from just one of the BATFE`s many odd legal interpretations. In another example that affects many gunsmiths, the agency says that bluing, parkerizing or Teflon-coating a firearm amounts to "manufacturing," while camouflaging a firearm by painting or dipping does not. To say the least, navigating rulings like this can quickly become confusing.

Fortunately, a large number of members of Congress have been inspired to act on this issue. Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Zack Space, D-Ohio, and Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have introduced H.R. 2296 and S. 941, the "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act," co-sponsored by 217 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate. The bills are based upon several previous reform bills discussed in the April 2008 ILA "Political Report."

Making clear that dealers can do routine gunsmithing work without being "manufacturers" is just one of the problems H.R. 2296 and S. 941 would correct. Another is the BATFE`s misinterpretation of what constitutes a "willful" violation of federal gun laws. The Firearms Owners` Protection Act of 1986--passed in response to a previous wave of troublesome actions by the agency--allows the BATFE to revoke a dealer`s license only if the dealer`s violations are "willful." But over the years, the BATFE has interpreted "willful" violations to include minor clerical errors. H.R. 2296 and S. 941 would require that a dealer "knew of a legal duty, and engaged in the conduct knowingly and in intentional disregard of the duty" before his license could be revoked.

In addition to protecting gun dealers from overreach, H.R. 2296 and S. 941 would protect gun owners from unknowingly ending up in a gun registration system. The bills would permanently codify longstanding appropriations amendments that prohibit the BATFE from creating an electronic database of gun owners based on records turned in by dealers who have gone out of business or who have had their licenses revoked.

The bills would also clean up a host of lesser problems. For example, it would correct a drafting error in the federal law that currently requires a person under the age of 18 to have written permission from a parent or guardian to use a handgun for a variety of lawful purposes--;even when the parent or guardian is directly supervising the use of the handgun. (Fortunately, that provision of the law has rarely, if ever, been enforced.) And the bills would give a person taking over a firearm business (such as a family gun store) a grace period to fix problems in the business`s records, rather than punishing him for the previous owner`s mistakes.

Another provision heavily attacked by anti-gun groups, such as the Brady Campaign and Violence Policy Center, would create a 60-day grace period for ex-dealers to liquidate their inventories. Anti-gun groups denounce this as a "fire sale loophole," even though all sales would still be subject to the usual background check and record keeping requirements. And, of course, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg`s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has sent a letter to Congress opposing the new bills.

This just proves that the gun control crowd wants the number of dealers reduced in order to reduce the number of guns sold in America. Longtime NRA members will remember that burdensome regulations imposed during the Clinton administration cut the number of licensed gun dealers (mostly small businesses) by more than half.

With wide bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, H.R. 2296 and S. 941 could be historic victories for gun owners in the tradition of the Firearms Owners` Protection Act of 1986. But in the coming days we`ll need the support of NRA members to achieve this goal. If your U.S. senators or representative haven`t already co-sponsored this bill, call or write them urging their support; if they`re already on board, be sure to thank them.

For more information on this issue, go to www.nraila.org/batfe.

If you are a Federal Firearms Licensee and are having issues with the BATFE, please contact NRA-ILA`s Office of Legislative Counsel at the above website, or call (703) 267-1160.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.