Gun Owners' Personal Information Is Being Illegally Collected and Stored by the ATF

A common fear of many gun owners is that the government is keeping information about firearm purchases and information that doesn’t belong to it, and according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), that’s happening.


The GAO released a June report after it conducted an audit of the ATF and found that the government agency has been storing the personal information of gun owners in noncompliance with federal law. In particular, two of the four systems were were storing information it’s specifically prohibited from doing.

The audit reads:

Of the 4 data systems, 2 fully comply and 2 did not always comply with the appropriations act restriction prohibiting consolidation or centralization of FFL records. ATF addressed these compliance issues during the course of GAO’s review. ATF also does not consistently adhere to its policies. Specifically:

OBRIS complies with the restriction and adheres to policy.

A2K for in-business FFL records complies with the restriction. A2K for out-of-business FFL records did not comply with the restriction because ATF maintained these data on a single server at ATF. Thus, ATF deleted the records in March 2016. In addition, ATF policy does not specify how, if at all, FFLs may use A2K records to meet out-of-business record submission requirements. Such guidance would help ensure they submit such records.

FRNP generally complies with the restriction. However, a 2007 through 2009 program using FRNP did not comply. ATF cancelled this program in 2009 and deleted the related data in March 2016. Also, a technical defect allows ATF agents to access FRNP data—including purchaser data—beyond what ATF policy permits. Aligning system capability with ATF policy would ensure that firearms purchaser data are only provided to those with a need to know.

MS complies with the restriction, but ATF inconsistently adheres to its policy when deleting MS records. Specifically, until May 2016, MS contained over 10,000 names that were not consistently deleted within the required 2 years. Aligning the MS deletion policy with the timing of deletions could help ATF maintain only useful MS purchaser data and safeguard privacy.


Tl;dr: Multiple Sales (MS) is supposed to delete information about multiple guns purchased in one go after two years if no illegal acts were committed with them. The audit found that the ATF had stored over 10,000 names of purchasers despite having reached the two year time limit.

Furthermore, the Firearm Recovery Notification Program (FRNP), which allows law enforcement to track firearms believed to be involved in crime. The program was scrapped, but due to a glitch, agents can still access the data of people who purchase firearms, which is something the ATF doesn’t allow.

The GAO has recommended fixes, which the ATF has agreed to in order to fall into better compliance with the law.

This could likely all be clerical errors, or lazy upkeep, but these errors, glitches, and mistakes take on a new light when Thomas Brandon, Deputy Director of the ATF, says he would like to see more information collection and storage.

From CBS Sunday Morning:

Yet, Brandon says, not having the database hurts. Indeed, after the San Bernardino shootings, it took 12 hours to find out who owned the guns used in the attack. He says a computer database would have helped, and adds that not having one simply doesn’t make sense.

“There’s a lot of things that don’t make sense in this town, you know?” Brandon tells Schlesinger. “And, so, yeah, would it be efficient and effective? Absolutely. Would the taxpayers benefit with public safety? Absolutely. Are we allowed to do it? No.”


So this data storage is a mistake that ATF heads purposely want to make. Using the guise of safety and protection, the government wishes to have gun registration without the voluntary gun registration. In other words, every purchase you make is logged, stored, and viewable by any government entity that takes an interest in you.

This should worry every law abiding gun owner in America.


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