This Tuesday, September 14, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on reforming current regulation of commerce in firearms -- especially in the area of dealer licensing and oversight -- by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE).
The hearing will focus on S. 941, the "Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act" sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Congressmen Steve King (R-IA) and Zack Space (D-OH) have introduced a companion bill -- H.R. 2296 -- in the U.S. House and it has 240 cosponsors. The bills would roll back unnecessary restrictions, correct errors, and codify longstanding congressional policies in the firearms arena. These bipartisan bills are a vital step to modernize and improve BATFE operations.
Of highest importance, S. 941 and H.R. 2296 totally rewrite the system of administrative penalties for licensed dealers, manufacturers and importers of firearms. Currently, for most violations, BATFE can only give a federal firearms license (FFL) holder a warning, or revoke his license.
S. 941 and H.R. 2296 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 will help prevent the all-too-common situations where BATFE has revoked licenses for insignificant technical violations -- such as improper use of abbreviations or filing records in the wrong order.
Among its other provisions, S. 941 and H.R. 2296 would:
- Clarify the standard for "willful" violations -- allowing penalties for intentional, purposeful violations of the law, but not for simple paperwork mistakes.
- Improve 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.
- Allow a licensee a period of time to liquidate inventory when he goes out of business. During this period, all firearms sold would be subject to a background check by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
- Allow a grace period for people taking over an existing firearms business to correct problems in the business's records -- so if a person inherited a family gun store (for example), the new owner couldn't be punished for the previous owner's recordkeeping violations.
- Reform the procedures for consideration of federal firearms license applications. Under S. 941, denial of an application would require notification to the applicant, complete with reasons for the denial. Additionally, an applicant would be allowed to provide supplemental information and to have a hearing on the application.
- Require BATFE to establish clear investigative guidelines.
- Clarify the licensing requirement for gunsmiths, distinguishing between repair and other gunsmith work and manufacture of a firearm. This would stop BATFE from arguing that minor gunsmithing or refinishing activities require a manufacturers' license.
- Eliminate a provision of the Youth Handgun Safety Act that requires those under 18 to have written permission to use a handgun for lawful purposes (such as competitive shooting or safety training) -- even when the parent or guardian is present.
- Permanently ban creation of a centralized electronic index of out of business dealers' records -- a threat to gun owners' privacy that Congress has barred through appropriations riders for more than a decade.
- Allow importation and transfer of new machineguns by firearm and ammunition manufacturers for use in developing or testing firearms and ammunition, and training customers. In particular, ammunition manufacturers fulfilling government contracts need to ensure that their ammunition works reliably. S. 941 and H.R. 2296 would also provide for the transfer and possession of new machineguns by professional film and theatrical organizations.
- Repeal the Brady Act's "interim" waiting period provisions, which expired in 1998.
- Give BATFE sole responsibility for receiving reports of multiple handgun sales. (Currently, dealers also have to report multiple sales to state or local agencies, a requirement that has shown little or no law enforcement value.) State and local agencies could receive these reports upon request to BATFE, but would have to comply strictly with current requirements to destroy these records after 20 days, unless the person buying the guns turns out to be prohibited from receiving firearms.
- Restore a policy that allowed importation of barrels, frames and receivers for non-importable firearms, when they can be used as repair or replacement parts.
S. 941 represents the first time such BATFE reform legislation has been introduced in the Senate. However, the House passed similar legislation (H.R. 5092) in the 109th Congress by a 277-131 vote. A majority of the House--224 congressmen--cosponsored H.R. 4900 in the 110th Congress.
A fact sheet on S. 941/H.R. 2296 can be found here.
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