Thousands of firearm dealers in Southwest border states must comply with gun federal agents' demands for information about the bulk sale of semi-automatic rifles, a federal appeals court in Washington ruled today.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously upheld the propriety of so-called "demand letters," rejecting the legal challenge brought by two gun dealers in Arizona and a firearms association based in Newtown, Conn.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives in July 2011, seeking to curb gun trafficking along the Southwest border, sent the letters to thousands of dealers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. The ATF said the dealers must report to the government the sale of two or more semi-automatic rifles, within any five consecutive business days, with certain characteristics.
The challengers, including gun dealers J&G Sales Ltd. and Foothills Firearms LLC, asked U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer to block the enforcement of the demand letters and to order the ATF to destroy information the dealers had earlier submitted.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argued the ATF lacked authority to issue the demand letters, and the attorneys said the requested information created, unlawfully, a firearms registry.
The D.C. Circuit panel—judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and Senior Judge Harry Edwards—noted in its ruling that "the demand letter is in most respects quite narrow." At oral argument, the court was skeptical that the ATF rule was requiring anything new from the firearms dealers.
Henderson, writing for the panel, said "because ATF sent the demand letter to only seven percent of FFLs nationwide and required information on only a small number of transactions, the July 2011 demand letter does not come close to creating a 'national firearms registry.'"