Alaska's U.S. Rep. Don Young sent a letter to the acting director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Tuesday, asking for an explanation of why ATF agents have been visiting Alaska gun shops, asking for copies of gun and firearm transactions -- or, in gun-shop parlance, "bound books."
Young acknowledges that while ATF agents are permitted to conduct routine, in-shop compliance inspections, federal law forbids the removal or copying of such material unless there's an official criminal investigation. One fear is that the ATF will create some sort of list or database of gun owners, which has been illegal since 2011.
In his letter to B. Todd Jones of ATF, Young wrote that although he's been receiving these reports from Alaska, it's "unlikely that these improper activities have only happened in Anchorage."
Young told Jones that gun-shop owners who refused the ATF's request were "then pressured or even intimidated in an effort to obtain those records."
Four owners or managers of gun shops in Alaska were contacted by Alaska Dispatch on Wednesday. Two of those reported that ATF agents had asked for their books, and both turned down the requests. The one shop that went on the record, Great Northern Guns in Anchorage, said the ATF agent asked politely for the books, and when store manager Frank Caiazza refused, the agent just as politely accepted the refusal.
"I told them no. They said, 'OK, thank you very much,' and left." That was in late January or early February, Caiazza said.
The other shop owner said his shop had a similar experience.
"They can ask for anything they want. And we can say no," said Ken Feinman, manager of Wild West Guns in Anchorage. The ATF has not asked Feinman for his shop's books. "We have a very good relationship with the ATF," he said. "They are nice people."
Gun Runners in Anchorage likewise had not been approached by the ATF.
It's unclear why the ATF is asking for the information; if it is investigating individuals, guns stores, or perhaps themselves. The agency didn't return repeated phone calls Wednesday.
The news that the ATF has been scouting around Alaska's gun stores prompted a rapid response on blogs and message boards. Nothing fires up Alaska gun rights groups like news that the ATF is trying to infringe on Second Amendment rights, especially if there's a germ of truth in it.
Young, a Republican and firm advocate of gun rights who is running for re-election this year (his 22nd time), knows this.
"I expect a full and complete response from the ATF in a timely fashion," he wrote. "In the time-being, I will continue do everything in my power to ensure Americans' Second Amendment rights are not trampled on."
Contact Amanda Coyne at amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com