Masse Questions ATF Director on Requesting FFLs to Notify the ATF on Cash Sales

Rep. Thomas Masse (R-KY) confronted Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Director Steve Dettelbach over the government agency asking federal firearms licensees (FFL) in border states to report cash transactions.

“Are you aware that it’s illegal for you to create a registry of gun owners in the United States,” Rep Masse asked Dettelbach.

Rep. Masse was referencing an interview that Mr. Dettelbach did with CBS’s “60 Minutes.” It was the same interview where the ATF’s firearms “expert” could not disassemble or assemble a Glock pistol. In the interview, Dettelbach pointed out that someone could buy a Barrett .50 cal in cash. He said that FFLs should report cash purchases to the ATF. Many in the gun community took issue with this statement because it is not illegal to buy firearms with cash, and in many cases, gun owners prefer to use cash, especially since programs such as “Operation Choke Point” exist.

Operation Choke Point was an operation launched by the government to crack down on banks that dealt with the firearms industry by classifying such businesses as “high risk.” The firearms industry concluded that the government was using its power to infringe on the rights of Americans because the rate of fraud in the firearms world is lower than the national average. The chances of someone committing fraud after handing over legal documentation and going through a background check are low.

Rep. Masse asked Dettelbach if he was aware that the ATF is forbidden by law to keep a registry of gun sales. Mr. Dettelbach acknowledged he was aware of the law and pushed back, claiming that the ATF asking for notification of cash sales in border states did not constitute a registry.

Mr. Dettelbach claimed that the information was requested to prevent straw purchases of firearms and prevent those firearms from ending up in the hands of cartel members. He referenced the joint effort between the ATF and the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) to cut down on straw purchases. He specifically mentioned the “Don’t Lie for The Other Guy” program, but that program has nothing to do with tracking cash purchases. That program is more of a public awareness campaign.

“We run a program called Don’t Lie for the Other Guy, along with the National Shooting Sports Foundation,” Dettelbach told Masse. “And there is a minutia of straw purchasing matters, where there are warning signs where people can contact us and firearms dealers who are law-abiding business owners and the majority are, I want to say that again here, they frequently contact us, especially on the southwest border, because cartels are using straw purchases to arm themselves with the kind of weaponry that results in death and destruction and the danger to Americans and law enforcement.”

Many are worried that the ATF wants a paper trail for gun purchases to make it easier for the ATF to track sales. Banks have shown their willingness to pass on information to the federal government, and the federal government has pushed for companies such as credit card processors to mark firearms sales. Many consider this to be a backdoor registry. Rep Massee himself highlighted the banks turning over information to the government in his response to Dettelbach.

“We’re concerned because banks are keeping these records and giving them to the government without a legal process, and I yield back,” Masse responded

This situation isn’t the first time the ATF has tried to skirt the rules on keeping a registry. As first reported on AmmoLand News, the ATF’s Out of Business Office has digitized nearly one billion records from FFLs that have gone out of business. These documents are stored in a PDF format. Although the ATF claims not to have the optical character recognition (OCR) turned on, it can be activated with as little as three clicks, which would create a searchable database.

Discouraging the use of legal tender to buy firearms does not discourage straw purchases. Whether using cash, credit, or a check, a person must go through the same background checks. The only thing that using cash does is make it harder for banks and credit card companies to track gun purchases.

About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. Mr. Crump has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at

John Crump

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