ATF Harasses Businessman for Maintaining Rights

The ATF revoked the Federal Firearms License of a sporting goods store owner who refused to comply with an illegal request.

As reported by Neal Talbot in the March 1, 1991, Gun Week, Kirby Ferris was contacted by the ATF to schedule an inspection of his Marin County, California, sporting goods store. An ATF agent said the ATF would inspect his records and check his list of customers "against the crime computer."

Ferris knew that the Form 4470s that firearms purchasers fill out is supposed to remain private except when a particular weapon has been used in a crime or a particular purchaser is a suspect.

When the ATF arrived to conduct the inspection, Ferris, along with four witnesses and a video camera, asked the ATF to sign a release holding Ferris blameless for the ATF's violation of the Privacy Act of 1974 (improper use of confidential information). The ATF refused to sign the release and left.

The ATF warned Ferris to submit to the warrantless search. Ferris wrote Harry Alder, the local head of the ATF, demanding that he "cease and desist" and pointing out the federal statutes making such a search illegal.

Alder responded by revoking Ferris' FFL and threatening him with up to $250,000 in fines and 5 years in prison. Ferris demanded an administrative review (part of due process) but was refused.

The warrantless inspection is part of the ATF's "Operation Forward Trace," which a federal judge had prohibited in his Ohio jurisdiction pending a final ruling in a court case involving the tactics.