News

Press Release: Van Hollen, Beyer Introduce Legislation to Improve ATF, Strengthen Gun Violence Prevention

WASHINGTON: Yesterday, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced legislation to improve and modernize the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in order to strengthen gun safety in our communities. The legislation – which follows last week’s Senate confirmation of Steve Dettelbach to serve as ATF Director – would remove irresponsible statutory restrictions that stand in the way of ATF’s mission to protect the public from violent criminals, criminal organizations and the illegal use and trafficking of firearms. The text of the ATF Improvement and Modernization (AIM) Act can be found here: vanhollen.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/OLL22677.pdf.

“Gun violence has plagued our country for too long – stoking fear and wreaking havoc in our communities, our neighborhoods, and our schools. Inaction is not an option. This month, the Senate confirmed an ATF Director, overcoming Republicans’ deliberate refusal to fill this position since 2015. Now it’s time to ensure ATF has the tools it needs to make our communities safe. This common-sense legislation eliminates obstacles that hinder ATF’s ability to crack down on illegal gun trafficking and reckless gun deals to dangerous individuals and empowers the Bureau to tackle the gun violence epidemic head-on,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“Gun violence takes a huge toll on our country, but with the confirmation of ATF Director Dettelbach we finally have a leader in place at a key position to help address it, for only the second time in fifteen years. Congress must act to give the ATF the tools it needs to prevent gun violence and make American communities safer, and that is what our legislation would do,” said Congressman Beyer.

“For years the gun lobby and its allies in Congress have complained that ‘we should just enforce existing laws’ even as they hollowed out the federal agency charged with enforcing them. Our legislation would take a commonsense approach to remove barriers that hamper the ATF’s mission to prevent criminals from acquiring and using guns. I appreciate Senator Van Hollen and the gun violence prevention leaders who worked with us to craft this important bill, and urge my colleagues to support it.”

The AIM Act is supported by Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, Brady United Against Gun Violence, March for Our Lives and Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. 

“Protecting our communities from dangerous weapons needs to be a top priority for legislators, which is why we commend Senator Van Hollen and Representative Beyer for their continued efforts to pass the ATF Improvement and Modernization (AIM) Act. The collaboration across departments and jurisdictions will help ATF reduce the level of violent crime and to enhance public safety,” said Myles Hicks, Executive Director Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence.

“The American people expect ATF to play a lead role in reducing gun violence, but for too long the NRA’s allies in Congress have deprived this key law enforcement agency of the steady leadership and tools it needs to keep Americans safe. We applaud Senator Van Hollen and Representative Beyer for introducing this bill, which will give ATF — which finally has a Senate-confirmed director — more life-saving tools,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. 

“As the gun violence crisis continues to impact communities across the country, it is imperative that our elected leaders advance policies and legislation that will help reduce gun violence. This legislation would enable ATF to fulfill their mandate of enforcing federal gun laws, which would help reduce gun violence across the nation. Now that ATF has a Senate-confirmed Director, Congress should remove provisions that hamper ATF from effectively regulating the gun industry and combating gun trafficking and violent crime. Giffords applauds Senator Van Hollen and Congressman Beyer on their steadfast leadership on this issue,” said Adzi Vokhiwa, Giffords Federal Affairs Director.

“With the first Senate-confirmed ATF Director in nearly a decade and support from a gun violence prevention champion in the White House, there has never been a more important moment for the ATF Improvement and Modernization Act,” said Brady President Kris Brown. “This act will save lives by helping ATF to more efficiently and effectively oversee and hold the firearms industry accountable and stop gun trafficking and other crimes that are fueling gun violence nationwide and particularly in communities of color. Brady is grateful to Sen. Van Hollen and Rep. Beyer for their leadership on this issue.”

“With a newly confirmed permanent director, the ATF is in the strongest position in nearly a decade to protect Americans from soaring gun violence. This modernization bill comes just in time to allow the ATF to hold the gun lobby to the highest standards of accountability, while taking aggressive enforcement action on the irresponsible dealers and manufacturers who supply the illegal market for gun crimes. We are proud to support this timely bill and thank Senators Van Hollen and Beyer for their leadership and dedication to saving lives,” said Elena Perez, March for Our Lives Senior Policy Associate.

Background

The ATF Improvement and Modernization Act, originally introduced in 2020, would: 

Make it easier for the ATF to work with other agencies to address violent crime

  • Allow the ATF to maintain a national centralized firearm database so they can return trace data to law enforcement more quickly. A centralized database would also allow law enforcement to detect patterns that indicate gun trafficking. The National Tracing Center maintains its records on paper and microfiche, which means a single trace request could take a week or longer, stalling criminal investigations. 
  • Allow the ATF to search computerized records they receive from dealers – the ATF currently must remove the search function from records they receive in a searchable format.
  • Allow NICS to hold on to background check information for more than 24-hours. A GAO report found that next day destruction virtually eliminates the FBI’s ability to initiate firearms retrieval actions when it learns, after-the-fact, that a transfer should not have been allowed.
  • Allow the ATF to transfer agency functions to another agency to improve coordination or receive help from agencies like the FBI. 

Allow the ATF to crack down on “bad apple” dealers

  • Allow the ATF to conduct multiple inspectors of a dealer in a year. Currently, they cannot do so, even if they suspect the dealer of trafficking crime guns. No other federal agency is subject to this prohibition. 
  • Allow the ATF to require gun dealers to inspect their inventories before an inspection and submit those firearm inventories. This would ensure that dealers report stolen or lost guns to the ATF and make it easier to track them should they be used in crimes. Currently, dealers do not have to maintain inventories, so bad apple dealers can sell guns off the books without a background check or records and, if it is used in a crime, tell ATF the gun was stolen. 
  • Lower the standard of proof for revoking a seller’s license from “willfully” breaking the law to “knowingly” doing so.
  • Eliminate the “de nova” review of appeals, which weakens the ATF’s ability to revoke licenses from bad apple dealers and defend those decisions in court.
  • Allow the ATF to deny a firearm license for lack of business, which will help ensure that the ATF doesn’t waste time inspecting dealers that aren’t selling to the public. Dealers with a federal firearms license can also avoid certain state laws or ship guns across state lines without a background check, treatment that should not be permitted if they are not engaged in legal gun sales to the public. 

Protect the public from dangerous weapons

  • Allow the ATF to define a curio or relic to ensure that more advanced weaponry is not included due to an outdated definition.
  • Allow the ATF to prevent imports of non-sporting use shotguns 

Make the ATF more responsive to the public and researchers

  • Allow the ATF to make trace data available to the public so universities and public research groups can study the flow of recovered crime guns and increase accountability among bad apple dealers who violate gun laws.
  • Allow ATF to process Freedom of Information Act requests for data on gun traces, arson, or explosive incidents. The ATF is the only federal law enforcement agency prohibited from responding to FOIA requests. Law enforcement sensitive and private information can be protected through the existing FOIA statute.