H.R. 4900: The “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act of 2007”

Posted on March 31, 2008

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Representatives Steve King (R-Iowa) and Zack Space (D-Ohio), have introduced H.R. 4900 the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act of 2007.” The bill would roll back unnecessary restrictions, correct errors, and codify longstanding congressional policies in the firearms arena. This bipartisan bill is a vital step to modernize and improve BATFE operations.

Of highest importance, H.R. 4900 totally rewrites the system of administrative penalties for licensed dealers, manufacturers and importers of firearms. Today, for most violations, BATFE can only give a federal firearms license (FFL) holder a warning, or totally revoke his license.

H.R. 4900 would allow fines or license suspensions for less serious violations, while still allowing license revocation for the kind of serious violations that would block an investigation or put guns in the hands of criminals. This prevents the all-too-common situations where BATFE has punished licensees for insignificant technical violation—such as improper use of abbreviations, or filing records in the wrong order.

Among its other provisions, H.R. 4900:

  • Clarifies the standard for “willful” violations—allowing penalties for intentional, purposeful violations of the law, but not for simple paperwork mistakes.
  • Improves the process for imposing penalties, notably by allowing FFLs to appeal BATFE penalties to a neutral administrative law judge, rather than to an employee of BATFE itself.
  • Allows a licensee a period of time to liquidate inventory when he goes out of business. During this period, all firearms sold are subject to a background check by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Allows a grace period for people taking over an existing firearms business to correct problems in the business’s records—so if a person inherits a family gun store (for example), the new owner couldn’t be punished for the previous owner’s recordkeeping violations.
  • Reforms the procedures for consideration of federal firearms license applications. Under H.R. 4900, denial of an application will require notification to the applicant, complete with reasons for the denial. Additionally, an applicant will be allowed to provide supplemental information and to have a hearing on the application.
  • Codifies limits on disclosure of firearms trace data—which Congress has already limited through a series of appropriations riders over the past three years, out of concern for gun owners’ privacy and the confidentiality of law enforcement records. The provision would still allow law enforcement agencies full access to trace data for bona fide criminal investigations.
  • Requires BATFE to establish clear investigative guidelines.
  • Clarifies the licensing requirement for gunsmiths distinguishing between repair and other gunsmith work and manufacture of a firearm.
  • Prevents disclosure of information in FFL records outside of law enforcement agencies.
  • Eliminates a provision of the Youth Handgun Safety Act that requires those under 18 to have written permission to use a handgun for lawful purposes (such as competitive shooting or safety training)—even when the parent or guardian is present.
  • Permanently bans creation of a centralized electronic index of dealers’ records—a threat to gun owners’ privacy that Congress has barred through appropriations riders for a decade.
  • Allows importation and transfer of machineguns by firearm and ammunition manufacturers for use in developing or testing firearms and ammunition. In particular, ammunition manufacturers fulfilling government contracts need to ensure that their ammunition works reliably.
  • Allows transfer and possession of machineguns for use by federal security contractors. Additionally, H.R. 4900 provides for the transfer and possession of machineguns by professional film and theatrical organizations.
  • Repeals the Brady Act’s “interim” waiting period provisions, which expired in 1998.
  • Gives BATFE sole responsibility for receiving reports of multiple handgun sales. (Currently, dealers also have to report multiple sales to state or local agencies, a requirement that has shown little or no law enforcement value.)
  • Restores a policy that allowed importation of barrels, frames and receivers from non-importable firearms, when they can be used as repair or replacement parts.
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