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Legally Armed: V21N2

By Teresa G. Ficaretta, Esq. & Johanna Reeves, Esq.

ATF’s Demand Letter Program–Alive and Well Since 2000

In 2000 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) began a program it calls the “Demand Letter Program,” which requires federal firearms licensees (FFLs) who receive such letters to report specified information to the agency concerning the FFL’s acquisition and/or disposition of certain firearms. The program was expanded in 2011 to require FFLs in four states along the southwest border to provide multiple sales reports for specified semi-automatic rifles. This article will address the reasons ATF established the demand letter program, summarize the requirements of Demand Letter 1, Demand Letter 2 and Demand Letter 3 and discuss litigation challenging the program.

I. Legal Background

The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) requires FFLs to maintain records of importation, production, shipment, receipt, sale or other disposition of firearms as specified in regulations issued by ATF. ATF has a right to inspect such records, without a warrant, during an annual compliance inspection, at any time in connection with tracing of crime guns or in the course of an investigation of a person other than the FFL whose records are being inspected. The GCA requires FFLs to respond to ATF firearms trace requests within 24 hours.

Since 1968, the GCA has included a provision giving ATF the authority to require FFLs to report firearms record information to ATF when requested to do so by letter. This legal authority provides the basis for the demand letters that are the subject of this article.

II. Demand Letters and the Reasons They Are Sent to FFLs

1. Demand Letter 1

Demand Letter 1 is related to ATF’s firearms tracing program, which is an important part of the agency’s mission to assist other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in investigating firearms-related crime. ATF traces firearms when they are recovered by a law enforcement agency as a “crime gun.” ATF defines “crime gun” as any firearm that is illegally possessed, used in a crime or suspected by law enforcement officials of having been used in a crime. However, we note that ATF acknowledges...

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