According to a press release from Alaska Rep. Don Young's office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) met with Young over concerns that Young had raised about reports that ATF agents were requesting records from gun-store owners in Alaska.
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.
"During today's meeting Deputy Director Brandon assured me that this is not an accepted practice at the ATF and that they are looking to remedy the situation to ensure it, or anything like it, never happens again in the future," Young said.
He said that there will be a seminar held in the future in which Young has requested that ATF "listen and work with Alaskan gun shop owners to make sure their questions are answered and all of their concerns are heard."
Four owners or managers of gun shops in Alaska were contacted by Alaska Dispatch in late April. 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.
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 in April, nor did they return calls on Friday.
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.
UPDATE: Drew Wade, spokesman for the ATF, sent the Alaska Dispatch the following statement:
"ATF Deputy Director Tom Brandon and other personnel met in person with Rep. Young to respond to his inquiry and appreciated the opportunity to discuss the Federal Firearms Licensee inspection process with the congressman. Mr. Brandon reiterated ATF's long standing policy (since 1992) about the acceptable manner in which records can be acquired from FFLs as part of a compliance inspection. Mr. Brandon also used the meeting as an opportunity to affirmatively state that ATF has never maintained a database of lawful firearms owners; is not permitted by law to create and maintain such a database; and has no intention whatsoever of collecting any information for such a database. ATF looks forward to working with Rep. Young in the future on matters of mutual concern that affect public safety in Alaska."