By Samantha Flom
Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) will seek to defund the Office of the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) under a little-used House rule.
In a June 26 letter (pdf) to House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas), the lawmakers announced their plans, holding that the ATF had been “weaponized” against U.S. citizens by the Biden administration.
“The leadership at the ATF has proven unable or unwilling to see that the ATF respect the rule of law and not act where Congress has not legislated,” they wrote. “Instead, the ATF abuses its rulemaking authority, legislating through the executive and making a mockery of the separation of powers mandated by the Constitution.”
In February, internal documents outlining the ATF’s federal firearms licensee (FFL) inspection guidance were leaked to the press. The documents revealed that the Biden administration’s “zero tolerance” policy had made it easier to revoke the licenses of gun store owners.
In their letter, Gaetz and Green noted that under the policy mere “clerical errors” could result in such revocation.
“The ATF has even made it a matter of official policy to shut down gun stores by making perfection the standard in record keeping—a standard the ATF itself could not meet,” they wrote. “Since the Biden Administration has announced its new ‘zero tolerance’ policy in 2021, Federal Firearms Licensees have faced the highest revocation rate in 16 years.”
They continued: “The ATF has shown itself incapable of operating within the confines of its statutory authority, and we must force a change. Hence, I write to inform you that I intend to use the Holman Rule to defund the Office of the Director of the ATF in the next available appropriations period.”
In a previous statement provided to The Epoch Times, Erik Longnecker, deputy chief of ATF Public Affairs Division, downplayed the Biden administration’s policy to revoke federal firearms licenses for “willful violations” of the law.
“A willful violation occurs when a federal firearms licensee commits the violation with an intentional disregard of a known legal duty or with plain indifference to their legal obligations,” Longnecker said. “Most federal firearms licensees operate in compliance with federal laws and regulations. In Fiscal Year 2022, only 90 federal firearms licenses were revoked out of almost 7,000 compliance inspections.”
However, at a June 26 field hearing in Shalimar, Florida, Gaetz and Greene further criticized the policy and the ATF, which they castigated as a “clown show,” holding that the administration was trying to circumvent the Second Amendment.
“They want to make it impossible to exercise Second Amendment rights, and what better way to do this than to make it difficult to purchase a firearm?” Gaetz noted. “Make no mistake, the ATF is going after Americans and FFLs are just in the way.”
During the hearing, local gun store owners and manufacturers testified as to how they had personally been affected by the Biden administration’s policies.
Chris Smith, the owner of Gulf Coast Gun and Outdoors, noted that his business was recently inspected after his business posted pictures on social media of staff members dressed up as ATF and FBI agents for Halloween.
“It seemed that the intent was to shut me down from the moment that they walked in,” Smith said, noting that his staff overheard an agent saying, “I bet they aren’t laughing at us on Facebook now.”
Smith also said that an agent cited his business for a form they said had been improperly filled out by a customer when it was supposed to be filled out by staff.
“One of my employees confirmed that the portion [the agent] was referring to was his own handwriting, but the ATF agent still cited us for the form.”
The Holman Rule
First adopted in 1876, the Holman Rule allows amendments to appropriations bills that would reduce the number or salary of federal employees or cut certain programs.
The rule was rescinded in 1983 but has in recent years been reinstated on a temporary basis, including in 2017 and 2018. In January, Republicans revived it again at the urging of the House Freedom Caucus.
“Congress has the tools in its arsenal to hold the Biden administration accountable—if we activate them,” the Freedom Caucus wrote in a proposal (pdf) last July. “Democrats eliminated the ‘Holman Rule’ when they took the House because it allows members to make targeted spending cuts in appropriations funding bills by slashing the funding of specific federal programs or cutting the salaries of individual federal employees (e.g., Dr. Anthony Fauci). Republicans must reimplement the Holman Rule.”
But the rule’s successful use may be easier said than done. Any amendments passed by the House will still require the approval of both the Democrat-controlled Senate and President Joe Biden—hence the rule’s infrequent use.
Both Gaetz and Greene have called for the ATF to be abolished in the past.
In 2021, Greene put forward the “Brian A. Terry Memorial Eliminate the ATF Act,” which aimed to abolish the agency, remove restrictions on lawful gun owners, and provide funds to the surviving families of U.S. Border Patrol agents killed as a result of Operation Fast and Furious.
More recently, in January, Gaetz introduced the “Abolish the ATF Act,” which would do exactly what the title suggests. The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
Mark Tapscott and Naveen Athrappully contributed to this report.