Anchorage, Alaska Gun Shop refuses to hand over customer info to ATFE
We have been getting questions from our customers around the country about the situation with the Anchorage gun store Great Northern Guns and the ATFE. An ATFE inspector requested that Great Northern Guns turn over their bound books dating from 2007 to be taken offsite and copied in their entirety. The ATFE inspector indicated that several other area gun shops have turned their records over to the ATFE for duplication.
Great Northern Guns refused the request, as they have a legal right to do. While the ATFE does have the right to inspect these records, without a warrant for certain purposes (compliance inspections or actual criminal investigations of persons other than the licensee, as well as traces of firearms used in crimes) and with a warrant for other purposes, The do not have the right to seize the records in their entirety except in extreme cases, usually involving a criminal investigation into the licensee or employees of the shop itself, and would normally require a warrant. The ATFE os also restricted by federal law from creating or maintaining a registry of firearm purchases, which the copying of a dealer’s records would create.
There are many rumors flying around the internet about this situation right now, and some people seem to be making a lot of assumptions. I have not yet spoken to either the ATFE or Great Northern Guns about this, but I am familiar with the situation, and with both parties involved, and have some concerns about it.
There seems to be some assumption that the ATFE’s request must have been sparked by some illegal action on the part of Great Northern Guns. I cannot be 100% sure that Great Northern Guns always stays within the law, since I don’t work there, I can say that if you told me a gun store in Alaska purposely did something shady, Great Northern Guns would be one of the last that I would suspect. The guys at Great Northern Guns have always given me an impression of being conscientious in following both the letter and the intent of the law. In fact, I can remember two occasions when I was in the shop and saw them refuse a sale that was maybe not totally illegal, but fishy enough that the salesman refused the sale. Both were sales that a less conscientious dealer may have gone through with.
Great Northern Guns has a reputation for dealing with their customers with honesty and integrity. When a company makes this the pattern of their business dealings, it tends to permeate every part of their business.
I also know from speaking with them that Great Northern Guns has a friendly relationship with the local ATFE inspectors. They are not the type of outfit that would go out looking to pick a fight.
Great Northern Guns is one of my favorite gun shops in Anchorage. It is an old-fashioned gun store with a great variety of firearms, from new modern firearms to antiques. The atmosphere is friendly and the store is always full of people. The guys working there will go far out of their way to help a customer, and have insisted on helping me install things that I bought there was willing to install myself. Sitting here at my computer, I am looking at a Model 71 Winchester on my wall. If you have read the article on this site about the Model 71, you know where I bought it.
I would be shocked if we find that Great Northern Guns has done anything to warrant a seizure of their records. I expect that we will find that they were simply following what is clearly written in the law and looking out for their customers and for gun owners throughout the nation.
Others feel that the ATFE in Alaska must be jack-booted thugs that are devising their own gun registration scheme up here. I have been involved with the ATFE office in Anchorage for many years, first in the explosives industry, and now also in the firearms industry. I know all of the inspectors personally, and have spoken to many of their other staff on several occasions. None of the inspectors in Alaska are personally anti-gun, and we have always had a good working relationship with them. They have been more than willing to help with any questions we have had. They don’t have a personal agenda of any kind against firearms.
According to Great Northern Guns, the ATFE inspector was polite, respectful, and did not press the issue, possibly even thanking the owner for refusing the request.
This leads me to my main concern. If we can be reasonably certain that Great Northern Guns is a upstanding gun shop that operates within the law to the best of their ability, and we can be reasonably sure that the ATFE personnel in Alaska have no rouge agenda of their own, then we have to question whether the request to copy the records came from a higher level. Is the ATFE making this request to dealers around the country? Is it something that they are testing in Alaska? Was it just an error?
We need to make sure that dealers know the law, and know what they can and cannot be required to do with the records they keep. It surprises me to hear how little some dealers know about the law, not when it comes to who they can or cannot sell a firearm to (though many are mistakenly more restrictive than the law requires) but in what protection the law gives them and their customers.
Do your part by talking to your local dealers about this issue. If there is a national attempt by leadership at the ATFE to bypass the laws, then informed dealers will make all of the difference.