U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) today wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland expressing her concern over the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives’ (ATF) “knock and talk” investigative practices.
Last year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced their intention to crack down on straw purchases, a federal crime in which someone purchases a gun for someone else who is prohibited by law from possessing a firearm or does not want their name associated with the transaction. Since then, several reports and videos have surfaced of ATF agents engaging in “knock and talk” tactics during their investigations. During these incidents, agents knocked on the doors of private residences – many where law-abiding gun owners live – and asked them to display a recently purchased firearm as proof that the resident did not conduct a straw purchase.
“In all of the ‘knock and talk’ incidents brought to my attention, none involved the presentation of a warrant,” writes Senator Ernst in the letter. “Simultaneously, multiple ATF agents, dressed in official ATF gear—including bullet proof vests—did not inform the resident purchaser of the optional nature of his or her participation in brandishing the requested firearm. The combination of these factors calls into question whether the ATF’s actions are meant to harass or coerce firearm purchasers into, at best, legally questionable ‘investigations.’”
In the letter, Ernst requested details on the criteria used by ATF to establish probable cause prior to “knock and talks,” whether or not ATF obtains warrants for these visits, the number of visits conducted without a warrant, and, if no warrant is acquired, what the legal basis is to ensure a purchaser’s Fourth Amendment rights are protected during the visit, among other information.
Read the full letter text here.