October 21, 2020

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

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Representative Don Beyer (D-Va.) introduced new 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 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

“Whether it’s the daily toll of violence that plagues our neighborhoods or the mass shootings that have wreaked havoc on their communities, it’s clear that we must take action to stop gun violence in our country. For too long, barriers erected by gun-industry hardliners have hampered ATF’s ability to crack down on illegal gun trafficking and the small number of reckless gun dealers who are responsible for selling most of the guns that fall into dangerous hands. We must eliminate those obstacles so ATF can truly meet its public safety mission and reduce gun violence. This commonsense legislation puts forward sweeping changes that will help ATF – and our country – tackle the gun violence epidemic,” said Senator Van Hollen.  

“For years whenever lawmakers have proposed reforms to prevent gun violence, the NRA and its allies in Congress have complained that we should just enforce existing laws’ instead, even as they hollowed out the federal agency charged with enforcing federal firearm laws. Our legislation would empower the government professionals charged with protecting the public to actually do their jobs and prevent criminals from acquiring and using guns. This is a commonsense approach to addressing an issue that claims tens of thousands of American lives every year, and I appreciate Senator Van Hollen and the gun violence prevention leaders who worked with us to craft this bill,” said Representative Beyer. 

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, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. 

“Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence applaud Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Don Beyer for introducing the ATF Improvement and Modernization (AIM) Act. This bill would remove dangerous obstacles created by The Tiahrt Amendment.  Senator Van Hollen’s and Representative Beyer’s bill will allow researchers and advocates access to essential data that will assist in tracking the source of illegal guns; hold Federally Licensed Firearm (FFL) dealers accountable for inspections to prevent lost and stolen firearms from being sold illegally; and better support law enforcement’s efforts to investigate illegal gun crimes. A key factor in reducing gun violence is stopping the diversion of illegal guns.  The AIM Act is a key tool in achieving this goal,” said Elizabeth Banach, Executive Director of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. 

“The American people expect ATF to play a lead role in reducing gun violence, but NRA-backed legislation has hampered the agency’s ability to perform essential work like tracing crime guns and overseeing gun dealers. This bill would save lives by empowering ATF to do its job, and we applaud Senator Van Hollen and Representative Beyer for introducing it," said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety. 

“Americans know we face a gun violence crisis. Too often we don’t see or think about the men and women at ATF working to make our country a safer place. Their ingenuity and courage has been tragically limited by a federal government which has tied ATF’s hands at every turn. Senator Van Hollen and Representative Beyer are taking an important step to correct this mistake by introducing the ATF Improvement and Modernization Act. We are proud to support this legislation that finally allows ATF the freedom and ability to do its job proactively and effectively. If we’re serious about saving lives, Congress will pass this bill immediately,” said Adzi Vokhiwa, Giffords Federal Affairs Director. 

“For too long has our nation’s only firearms enforcement agency been hampered by the gun industry backed laws; the ATF Improvement and Modernization Act will save lives by allowing ATF to carry out its mission and stop the flow of illegal guns, especially into communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence,” shared Brady President Kris Brown. “Brady is grateful to Sen. Van Hollen and Rep. Beyer for their leadership on this issue.” 

"For far too long, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has been hamstrung in their abilities to effectively combat illegal firearm trafficking by congressional budget riders that restrict the agency from effectively doing its job. In order to adequately address the risk of gun violence to the public health of Americans, it is time to provide the ATF with the tools it requires to thwart illegal gun trafficking. The ATF Improvement and Modernization Act of 2020 eliminates many of the harmful budget riders that were intended to tie the hands of the ATF and would bring the Bureau into the 21st century. We applaud Senator Van Hollen and Representative Don Beyer for their leadership on this important issue,” said Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. 


The ATF Improvement and Modernization Act 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.