Judiciary Committee hearing next week on ATF modernization bill

This morning, I received a number of e-mails regarding a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for next Tuesday with the ambiguous title, “Firearms in Commerce: Assessing the Need for Reform in the Federal Regulatory Process.”  It gives no other description except for the date and time (September 14, 10 ET in the Dirksen Building) and the link to the eventual webcast.  Those Hot Air readers who passed along their thoughts had concerns that Democrats might attempt to quietly push through a bill to limit 2nd Amendment rights before the midterm elections, a highly unlikely strategy unless Democrats want to make this election even more of a debacle than currently thought, or prepare for a lame-duck attempt that would resonate all the way through to 2012.


A source on Capitol Hill tells me that this hearing has nothing of the sort at issue.  The hearing will explore S941, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act of 2009, which was passed in the House as HR2296.  The bill has a slate of bipartisan sponsors in the Senate, including Judiciary chair Pat Leahy (D-VT) and author Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Cornyn (R-TX), Max Baucus (D-MT), and 33 others.  The description of the bill from the legislative text shows that it mainly focuses on management of federal licenses and does so in a manner that 2nd Amendment activists will support:

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act of 2009 – Amends the federal criminal code to revise the civil penalties for violations of firearms law and the procedures for assessing such penalties. Requires fines to be based upon the nature and severity of the violation, the size of the firearms business involved, and the prior record of the firearm’s licensee. Prohibits consideration of the amount of fines or license revocations imposed by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in the retention, promotion, or transfer of such agents.

Revises the definition of “willfully” for purposes of firearms violations and standards for criminal violations of firearms recordkeeping requirements.

Requires the Attorney General to: (1) make preliminary determinations on firearms license applications and notify applicants in writing of a proposed denial; and (2) establish guidelines for ATF inspections, examinations, or investigations of possible firearms violations.

Permits an owner of a firearms business whose license is expired, surrendered, or revoked 60 days to liquidate inventory.

Allows purchasers of existing firearms businesses the right to cure firearms violations attributable to such businesses.

Allows the transfer, possession, and importation of machineguns for industry testing, training, and film production.

Eliminates the requirement of written permission for the use of a handgun for lawful purposes by a minor (under age 18) where a parent or legal guardian is present at all times during such use.

Prohibits the Attorney General from electronically retrieving inactive firearms licensee information by name or personal identification code.

Directs the Attorney General to authorize the importation of all frames or receivers of rifles, or barrels for firearms other than handguns, if the importation is for repair or replacement purposes.


The NRA favors passage of S941 as well:

As we’ve been reporting for months, Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have introduced S. 941, the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act of 2009” in the U.S. Senate.  Representatives Steve King (R-Iowa) and Zack Space (D-Ohio) have introduced a companion bill—H.R. 2296—in the U.S. House.  The bills would roll back unnecessary restrictions, correct errors, and codify longstanding congressional policies in the firearms arena.  These bipartisan bills are a vital step to modernize and improve BATFE operations.

Of highest importance, S. 941and H.R. 2296 totally rewrite the system of administrative penalties for licensed dealers, manufacturers and importers of firearms. Currently, for most violations, BATFE can only give a federal firearms license (FFL) holder a warning, or revoke his license.

S. 941 and H.R. 2296 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 will help prevent the all-too-common situations where BATFE has revoked licenses for insignificant technical violations—such as improper use of abbreviations or filing records in the wrong order.


In other words, it appears that the Senate may actually focus on an area of bipartisan agreement: reforming BATFE regulation so that it makes sense and is easier to enforce properly.  That’s a commendable impulse, and hopefully a sign that the issue of 2nd Amendment rights has been fully settled by Heller and McDonald.  As long as Judiciary focuses on this task, firearms owners have nothing to fear from a full hearing on S941, except that a few gun-control advocates will obstruct this effort.

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