Marquee Investigation of ATF Data By USA Today and The Trace Demonstrates Need for ATF Modernization and Improved Inspections Practices

A years-long analysis of documents provided by Brady reveals a pattern of lax enforcement of gun dealers by the ATF, the federal agency tasked with overseeing the gun industry

Washington, D.C., May 27, 2021 - Today, USA Today and The Trace have published a years-long analysis and investigation into the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives using over 30,000 pages of inspection reports provided by Brady. These organizations’ reporting proves what Brady and other advocates have charged for years, that years of Congressional riders and interference from the gun industry have hobbled ATF’s inspection of federal firearm licensees, leading to foreseeable infractions and a proliferation of crime guns in communities across the country. Read reporting from USA Today and The Trace here.

Brady President Kris Brown shared:

“These reporters’ dogged investigation and analysis has shown what Brady has called for over many years: the ATF needs modernization, improved funding, and a steady hand at its helm. These reports detail how over a decade of interference from the gun lobby has stopped the ATF from performing its fundamental duty, enforcing our nation's gun laws. Foreseeably, this has allowed federal firearms licensees (FFLs) and others charged with enforce our nation’s gun laws to falter in that duty, resulting in death and injury of Americans in far too many communities across this country.

On average, the ATF inspects only 7 percent of all FFLs per year, including only 12-13 percent of all dealers, pawnshops, and manufacturers, meaning that a majority of FFLs are not inspected within any five-year period. As USA Today and The Trace’s reporting shows, often those inspected are not held to account for infractions, allowing crime guns to proliferate in our communities and fuel gun violence.

This reporting is a wake-up call for our nation. We can help to prevent gun violence by simply enforcing the laws already on the books. That must include confirming a qualified law enforcement expert to lead ATF, such as President Biden’s nominee David Chipman. Congress must also address the gun lobby restrictions that were placed on ATF funding that seek to restrict its ability to enforce the law. It is the heart of these restrictions that led to Brady’s lawsuit requiring the ATF to produce the inspection reports that underpin USA Today’s and the Trace’s reporting. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and in many ways it is a new day for the ATF. It is far past time for our federal leaders to allow this agency to fulfill its mission and to keep our country safe and for ATF to work hand in hand with experts in gun violence prevention to help solve the uniquely American epidemic of gun violence.”

Episode 131: Why — and How — Are Lawbreaking Gun Dealers Being Protected?

Join Red, Blue, & Brady as we discuss the recent USA Today and the Trace investigative piece into ATF oversight of the gun industry, Brady's role in securing critical ATF documents, and the disturbing story those documents tell.

About The Documents Used In This ATF Investigation

In October 2017, Brady took the ATF to court to obtain inspection reports of gun industry businesses that violated firearms laws. This litigation resulted in the ATF delivering 50,000 pages of reports detailing inspections of over 2,000 gun dealers between July 2015 and June 2017. These documents tell a disturbing story. Routinely, when inspectors recommend that dealers who are repeatedly violating the law should have their dealer licenses revoked, higher level ATF officials overrule them and allow these dealers to remain in business with a slap on the wrist.

About Brady’s Enhance Inspection Initiative

Brady’s Enhanced Inspections Initiative focuses on identifying and reforming problematic gun dealers by providing state and local authorities with the tools necessary to optimize their gun dealer inspection processes. State and local gun industry oversight is necessary, as the ATF inspects only about 7 percent of federal firearms licensees each year, including only 12-13 percent of all dealers, pawnshops, and manufacturers. Even when the ATF does inspect a federal firearms licensee (FFL), as this investigation shows, it often fails to adequately enforce the law.

Through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and litigation, Brady has obtained and analyzed over 50,000 pages of ATF inspection data. Using this and other data, Brady has created a method for identifying key characteristics of dealers more likely to violate the law. Our method is 4.5 times more likely to identify a problem dealer than random selection. We expect its accuracy to increase as we gain access to more data.

Brady is working to integrate its proprietary data-analytics tool into state and local inspection processes. This tool allows state and local authorities to focus their limited resources on dealers who are likely to be violating the law. In doing so, states and localities will be able to fill the oversight void that currently exists due to ATF constraints, and conduct their own, more efficient oversight of dealers.

Together with our partners, the Enhanced Inspections Initiative combines analytics with Brady’s expertise and national resources to better understand urban firearm gun homicide and violence, identify problem dealers, and stem the flow of guns into impacted communities.


Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.

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