On Monday, April 3, The Outdoor Wire first reported on the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) having threatened master gunsmith
Larry Crow of Bogard, Missouri with felony charges based on the BATF's
interpretation of just what constituted "manufacturing" firearms.
Under the interpretation apparently applied to Mr. Crow, virtually any
modification to a firearm, from changing barrels or calibers to the
relatively minor installation of scope rails and optics would qualify -thus
making the newly "manufactured" firearm subject to the Federal Excise Taxes
collected on every manufactured firearm. That tax liability, would apply to
every firearm "manufactured" by the gunsmith.
Suffice to say, the report kicked off a firestorm in the firearms industry.
Whatever the reason for "the Crow incident", the firearms industry has
sounded the alarm and prepared to go to battle - again - with the BATF.
Simultaneous to that visit to Crow, hearings were underway in Washington to
look at reported abuses of authority by that same BATF.
In response, U.S. Representatives Howard Coble, (R-North Carolina) and
Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) introduced House Resolution 5092, a bill that
would "modernize and reform" the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
H.R. 5092 revises the current enforcement system , including expanding the
currently limited options for administrative penalties applied to licensed
dealers, manufacturers and importers of firearms. Todatm for most
violations, BATFE has only two options: issue FFL holders a warning, or
revoke the license. 5092's "modernization" would allow a series of
clearly-stated fines and/or license suspensions for less serious
violations; limiting license revocation to serious criminal violations that
could potentially block criminal investigations or put guns in the hands of
Equally significant is 5092's apparent intention to clarify the standard
for violations. The proposed legislation allowing penalties for
"intentional, purposeful violations of the law" but not for simple
paperwork mistakes. The bill also improves the due process under which
BATFE imposes these penalties; allowing for appeal of BATFE penalties to a
neutral administrative law judge - rather than to an employee of BATFE
itself. A frequent criticism from observers is that BATFE is incapable - or
unwilling - to hear appeals in an unbiased manner.
In 1986, Congress passed the Firearms Owners' Protection Act, believing
these problems were corrected with that passage. Instead, the government
has ignored the FOPA, even arguing in court the changes were "without
practical significance." [Velte's note: This is typical for NRA backed
legislation; they are too often symbolic, hollow victories, and FOPA was
one of them. To get FOPA passed, gunnies agreed to outlaw new manufacture
of automatics for civilians, btw).
To avoid the kind of nebulous situation that Larry Crow now finds himself,
H.R. 5092 would demand that the Bureau establish clear investigative
guidelines - and require the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of
Justice to review AFT's gun show enforcement operations.
Both are frequent points of contention due to what NRA-ILA spokespersons
have characterized as "inconsistencies by ATF that make it difficult, if
not impossible, for a law-abiding gunsmith to practice their trade."
H.R. 5092 also speaks to one of the continual criticisms of the BATFE by
gunsmiths: the Bureau spends too-much time and effort investigating
gunsmiths instead of investigating "real" criminals.
H.R. 5092 would focus BATFE's enforcement efforts on violations of
firearms, explosives, arson, alcohol and tobacco laws, rather than
Simply put it would clarify BATFE's purpose by directing efforts toward
criminals, removing the firearms industry from what they now characterize
as their status "low-hanging fruit" for ATF enforcement efforts.
As you can imagine, H.R. 5092 is getting widespread early support from the
firearms industry and shooting enthusiasts. The response from BATFE, while
neither official nor "for attribution" has been decidedly less positive.