Learn about ATF’s authority to revoke some federal firearms licenses (FFLs) and how the process works. There is a similar process for federal explosives licensees and permittees (FEL/FEPs).
The core of ATF’s mission is to protect the public from violent crime, especially those involving the use of firearms. The regulatory arm of ATF helps to support this mission by working with the firearms industry to ensure they adhere to all congressional laws and regulations that govern the industry.
Unfortunately, there are some federal firearms licensees (FFLs) who willfully violate federal laws and regulations, which prevents ATF from accomplishing its mission to protect the public.
On average, ATF revokes less than one-half of one percent of federal firearms licenses annually. While there are only a small number of these FFLs, the impact these few have on our communities can be devastating.
Willfulness is not defined in the regulations, but is defined by case law to mean the intentional disregard of a known legal duty or plain indifference to a licensee’s legal obligations.
If an FFL has willfully violated the law, shown an intentional disregard for regulatory requirements, or knowingly participated in criminal acts, revocation (or taking away their license) often becomes the only option.
Basis for Revocation
ATF does not revoke licenses for every violation found during compliance inspections. It is rare that the process of taking away a license is started unless an FFL has been educated on the requirements of the laws and regulations and given an opportunity to voluntarily comply with them, but has failed to do so.
Commonly cited violations in revocation cases include failures to:
- Account for firearms
- Verify and document buyer eligibility
- Maintain records needed for successful firearms tracing
- Report multiple sales of handguns
When ATF does pursue revocation, the procedures specified under Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 478 (27 CFR 478), are followed.
- First, ATF sends the licensee a notice of revocation (ATF Form 4500) that includes the violations that are the basis for pursuing revocation.
- The licensee has 15 days from receipt of the notice to file a request for a hearing with the Director of Industry Operations (DIO) in their ATF field division.
- At the hearing, the licensee can be represented by an attorney and may bring employees and documentation to address the violations cited in the notice. ATF is represented by ATF counsel and the industry operations investigators (IOIs) who conducted the inspection(s) that resulted in the revocation recommendation.
- During the hearing, the licensee has the opportunity to challenge the violations. Based on the evidence, testimony and exhibits presented at the hearing by the licensee and ATF, the DIO decides whether to continue with the revocation.
- If the DIO decides that the violations were willful and revocation is justified, or if the licensee does not request a hearing, ATF sends a final notice of revocation (ATF Form 5300.13) to the licensee with a summary of the findings and legal conclusions that warrant revocation. If the DIO decides that the license should not be revoked, ATF will notify the licensee in writing.
Within 60 days of receipt of the final notice of revocation, the licensee may file a petition for judicial review in federal court. This petition must be filed with the U.S. District Court for the district where the licensee resides or has their principal place of business. There is a fee for filing a civil action in federal court.
Request to Continue Operations
During the appeal process, the licensee may not continue operations. However, if the licensee makes a request to the DIO to allow continuance of business operations, the DIO may allow the licensee to operate during the appeal process.
If the DIO prohibits continuance of operations during judicial review because of the risk to public safety, the licensee can appeal to the court to continue operations during the review process.
If you have any questions about the firearms license revocation process, please contact your local ATF office.