ATF whistleblowers sound alarm on proposal effectively banning private gun sales

Gun Rights

Whistleblowers at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are sounding the alarm on a reported 1,300-page draft document that allegedly justifies a proposed rule that would effectively ban private gun sales, according to a watchdog group. 

“The fact that inside ATF sources are blowing the whistle on this draft rule is an indication of what a difficult position it would put the ATF in. ATF agents did not sign up to go after law-abiding citizens for private sales protected under the Second Amendment of the Constitution,” Tristan Leavitt, president of watchdog group Empower Oversight, said in a press release Wednesday. 

The group sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and ATF Director Steven M. Dettelbach on Wednesday morning to demand answers and documents about whistleblower claims that the agency is preparing to propose a rule requiring background checks for most, or even all, gun sales. 

The letter details that the group learned through “two sources in the ATF that at the direction of the White House, the ATF has drafted a 1,300-page document in support of a rule that would effectively ban private sales of firearms from one citizen to another by requiring background checks for every sale.”

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ATF whistleblowers say the agency drafted a 1,300-page document that would effectively ban private gun sales. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The letter comes after the Biden administration advocated for stricter gun control, including in August when the ATF introduced ATF2022R-17. Otherwise known as “Definition of ‘Engaged in the Business’ as a Dealer in Firearms,” that proposed rule would amend the agency’s regulations and incorporate provisions of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a gun control law signed by President Biden in 2022.

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Attorney General Merrick Garland. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The watchdog reported that the current draft document is reportedly being overseen by Senior Policy Counsel Eric Epstein, who previously worked as the Phoenix field office’s division counsel in a precursor operation to “Fast and Furious.”

“Such an expansive rule that treats all private citizens the same as federal firearms licensees would circumvent the separation of powers in the Constitution, which grants ‘all legislative Powers’ to Congress while requiring that the President ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’ To the extent such a rule prevents the private sale of firearms, it would also clearly violate the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which declares that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,’” Leavitt wrote.

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Peter J. Forcelli, retired deputy assistant director of the ATF, told Fox News that he doesn’t necessarily disagree with a rule requiring Americans to go through the federal firearms license process to sell a gun to a family member or friend, but he also noted that “the reality is bad guys still get guns.”

“People will now have … an additional step and utilize a licensed gun dealer to make those transactions if this comes into play,” Forcelli told Fox News’ William La Jeunesse. “… We have a problem with violent crime in the country right now. We have a lot of individuals who are misusing firearms that are not being prosecuted. And I think that this director’s time would be better served by pressuring those United States attorney’s offices that aren’t doing their job to go out there and effectively prosecute cases involving violent criminals.”

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Customers shop at a gun store in Virginia. (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

When asked for comment on the watchdog group’s letter, the ATF directed Fox News to information on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. 

“The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA), enacted June 25, 2022, amended the definition of engaging in the business of dealing in firearms to include all persons who devote time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business to predominantly earn a profit through the repetitive purchase and sale of firearms,” the ATF said in comment.

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“The proposed rule would amend the regulations applicable to the Gun Control Act by, among other things, conforming those regulations to the new BSCA definition and clarifying the conduct that presumptively requires a license under the amended definition,” the statement continued, adding that “unlicensed dealing undermines the public-safety measures required for” federal firearm licensees. 

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President Biden. (Screenshot/Biden speech)

The watchdog group’s letter is demanding records and communications about the plan, including from the White House and Epstein.

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“The lessons of the Ruby Ridge and Waco standoffs should make clear that attempting to enforce such an expansive regulation could endanger countless ATF field agents who are forced to serve as the face of the Biden Administration in going after private firearms owners for constitutionally-protected firearms sales,” the letter adds.

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