The number of orders issued to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to take back firearms reached a 10-year high in 2016. The FBI provided 4,000 directives to ATF to seize weapons from purchasers who should not have been allowed to buy the guns because of a history of criminal convictions, concerns over their mental health, or other issues.

According to USA Today, former ATF officer David Chapman said, "These are people who shouldn't have weapons in the first place, and it just takes one to do something that could have tragic consequences." Chapman added, "You don't want ATF to stand for 'after the fact.'" 

The actual number of weapons seized, however, is not clear. The number could be higher than 4,000 because more than one firearm may be purchased in a single dealing. 

Last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month ordered a review of federal background checks, following a mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The Air Force had failed to correctly report the court-martial conviction of the gunman, a former Air Man, for assaulting his wife and infant step-son. That information should have been added to the federal database that is used to screen purchasers of firearms. Because of his conviction, the gunman would have been prohibited from buying firearms. 

Sessions gave the FBI and the ATF just 60 days to address the issues laid out in a memorandum on November 22. According to the Department of Justice, the memo directs the FBI and ATF to take the following steps:

Work with the Department of Defense to identify and resolve any issues with the military’s reporting of convictions and other information relevant to determining prohibited person status under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). 
Conduct a review to identify other federal government entities that are not fully and accurately reporting information to NICS.  If any such entities are identified, a plan should be developed to ensure full and accurate reporting to NICS going forward to the extent required under current law.
Conduct a review of the format, structure, and wording of ATF Form 4473 and recommend changes as necessary.
Prepare a report that addresses: (a) the number of current open investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473; (b) the number of investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473 for the past five years; (c) the prosecution referral and declination numbers for the current year, as well as the past five years for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473; and (d) the priority level assigned to investigations for making a false statement on ATF Form 4473.
Identify any additional measures that should be taken to prevent firearms from being obtained by prohibited persons, including identifying obstacles to state, local, and tribal entities sharing information with NICS.

“The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is critical for us to be able to keep guns out of the hands of those that are prohibited from owning them,” said Sessions. “The recent shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas revealed that relevant information may not be getting reported to the NICS – this is alarming and it is unacceptable. Therefore, I am directing the FBI and ATF to do a comprehensive review of the NICS and report back to me the steps we can take to ensure that those who are prohibited from purchasing firearms are prevented from doing so.”



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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