On Wednesday, September 6th, 2023, U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-01) was informed of retaliation and harassment by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) against congressional witness Chris Smith, owner of Gulf Coast Gun in Milton, Florida. Today, Rep. Gaetz sent a letter to ATF Director Steven Dettelbach demanding answers regarding the agency’s targeted harassment against a congressional witness.
Chris Smith, owner of Gulf Coast Gun, testified on June 26th, 2023, at a congressional field hearing hosted by Rep. Gaetz on the weaponization of the ATF and its heightened targeting of Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL). This week, in an alleged violation of federal law, ATF agents showed up at his business to aggressively audit and harass him over a license he has only held for six months and has yet to use. Mr. Smith has not yet used the license, so the agents had nothing to inspect and had no choice but to leave.The local ATF agent admitted he had no records that Mr. Smith was using the license but nevertheless received a direct order to audit his new license in violation of the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.
Additionally, ATF agents showed up unannounced later that evening at his store manager’s home, despite the manager not being involved in the sale of firearms or the business of Gulf Coast Gun. The manager was not home, so ATF agents gave him a menacing call and said:“Don’t worry, we know where you work.”
Dear Director Dettelbach:
It has come to my attention that yesterday, September 6, 2023, ATF agents once again aggressively targeted and harassed one of my constituent federal firearms licensees (FFL), Chris Smith of Gulf Coast Gun, this time apparently in violation of federal law. Chris has held an FFL in Florida for years with no issues, and yet the ATF has aggressively audited him without merit and accused him of various clerical errors in an attempt to have his FFL revoked. It is for this reason that Chris testified as a whistleblower before members of Congress.
After Chris’ testimony at my Field Hearing on the Weaponization of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, ATF agents showed up at his business unprompted to inspect a manufacturer’s license he has held for only six months: Given Chris has not yet used the license, the agents had nothing to inspect and had no choice but to leave. The ATF had previously audited Chris’ retail license within the last year, and it follows that given the ATF is forbidden from auditing the same business twice in one year, the only excuse the ATF had to harass Chris further was to audit a new, unused manufacturer’s license.
The local ATF agent admitted that he had no records Chris was using the license, but nevertheless received a direct order to audit Chris’ new license. However, under the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986, the ATF’s delegated authority from the Department of Justice to “inspect the inventory and records of a licensed collector without such reasonable cause or warrant” can only be for the purpose of “ensuring compliance with the record-keeping requirements of this chapter not more than once during any twelve-month period” (emphasis added) (18 U.S.C. 923(g)(1)(C). A single, vertically integrated manufacturer and seller of firearms is required, under the law, to maintain records and does not become two individuals subject to two unjustified annual inspections merely because your agency has decided to ask for additional paperwork.
In addition to this violation of federal law, the ATF showed up uninvited to the home of Christian O’Brien, Chris’ store manager, without making an appointment, as he does not have business hours. Christian does not sell any firearms or perform any business on behalf of Gulf Coast Gun. Christian was not home at the time, so the agents called him and told him: “Don’t worry, we know where you work.” This kind of stalking is unwarranted and creepy.
The ATF’s harassment of law-abiding FFLs is clear and documented. Furthermore, the implication that the ATF may be retaliating against congressional whistleblowers in response to their lawful actions before Congress is astounding. In order for the House Committee on the Judiciary, of which I am a member, to conduct oversight of this matter, at your immediate availability, please provide answers to the following questions:
(1) How many audits and/or inspections have the ATF performed on a license held only for six months? (2) For what reason did the ATF decide to attempt an inspection on Chris’ new license?
(3) For what reason was the ATF seeking to speak with Christian O’Brien?
(4) For what emergency did the ATF find it necessary to perform a house call to someone who is not involved in the sale of firearms on behalf of Gulf Coast Gun?
(5) Who at the ATF made the decision to audit the unused license of a congressional whistleblower after giving his testimony?
(6) What rules, regulations, or other agency documents does the ATF rely upon for its apparent position that multiple licenses for a single licensee subjects the licensee to multiple warrantless inspections within a 12-month period? Please provide those documents.
Member of Congress