Few Individuals Denied Firearms Purchases Are Prosecuted and ATF Should Assess Use of Warning Notices in Lieu of Prosecutions
GAO-18-440, Published: Sep 5, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 5, 2018.
Recommendations for Executive Action
- Recommendation: We recommend that the Deputy Director, Head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assess the extent to which ATF field divisions use warning notices for standard denials in lieu of prosecution and determine whether any policy changes are needed. (Recommendation 1)
- Agency Affected: Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
- Status: Closed - Implemented
- Comments: ATF's 60-day letter repeated ATF's concurrence with the recommendation and noted the following actions: Prior to issuance of GAO's report, ATF headquarters surveyed its field divisions to determine the extent to which they use warning notices for standard denial referrals. Specifically, ATF Field Operations asked the field divisions whether each division had a Standard Operating Procedure for "Standard Denial" notification and, if so, what that entails. According to ATF, the results of that survey indicated that a majority of ATF field divisions send out warning notices on a case-by-case basis. ATF senior leadership evaluated whether to implement a uniform requirement that each field division produce warning letters for standard denial referrals that do not result in a full field investigation. For a variety of resource, technology, and policy reasons, however, ATF determined that the costs of implementing such a requirement outweighs the likely benefits. In June 2019, ATF reported that it developed a process for ATF to share NICS standard denial data with state fusion centers. Through this process, ATF forwards information regarding NICS standard denials that have not already been referred to ATF field offices for follow-up investigation within their jurisdiction to state fusion centers. A sample of these data provided to one state for May 2019 includes the identity of the denied individual, the county of residence, the reason for the denial (e.g., felony conviction), and demographic information on the denied individual, among other information. According to ATF, this information will provide its law enforcement partners with situational awareness for further action as they see fit. The action by ATF to evaluate field division policy on warning notifications and additional actions to share standard denial information with law enforcement partners fulfills the intent of GAO's recommendation.