BATF Backdoor Firearms Registration Scheme

The author of this piece is a retired computer professional with over 40 years
experience with computers and software. Submitted 10/29/09



(Index of associated material)

Contrary to the Intent of Congress and in violation of 18 U.S.C. 926(a), for over 20 years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF - the Agency that brought us Waco and Ruby Ridge) has been quietly building a massive, centralized, backdoor Firearms Registration System for Firearms, Firearm Owners and Firearm Transactions.

The Firearms Owners’ Protection Act, signed into law in 1986, specifically forbids registration of firearms records at 18 U.S.C. 926(a):

"No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established."

This statutory restriction does not exclude manual systems of records nor require such prohibited record systems to be automated or computerized.

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Out-of-Business Records

When a firearms dealer, importer, or manufacturer dies or goes out of business, all the Acquisition/ Disposition records (the "Bound Book") kept by the business, by law, must be delivered to the BATF Out-of-Business Center. Currently (according to the 2010 BATF Budget Submission), over 1.2 million records per month are being received by the BATF Out-Of-Business Center.

On August 25, 2008, BATF implemented Ruling 2008-2, allowing Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders to keep the Acquisition/Disposition "Bound Book" on a computer. However, when the FFL goes out of business, the BATF requires a computer file (digital file) and file description be provided to the BATF Out-of-Business Records Center - in addition to a printout of the "bound A/D book". Since BATF kindly allows dealers to also record antique firearms in the A/D book, these records are also being turned in to BATF. This is an official BATF Ruling issued after 1986 (see above quote), thus it specifically violates 18 U.S.C. 926(a) by requiring the digital file to be "transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States".

Obviously, BATF intends to make use of those digital records, which include the Name and Address of every Buyer and every Seller for each gun, as well as the Manufacturer, Model, Caliber and Serial of each firearm. In fact, each set of Out-of-Business digital records is precisely a system of registration of firearms, firearm owners and firearm transactions specifically prohibited by 18 U.S.C. 926(a). BATF has not revealed what they are doing with these digital files. Regardless, it is a simple task to search these digital files for specific names or addresses, or to extract all purchasers of 9mm handguns, or combine all of these digital Out-of-Business files into one large registration database.

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History of Out-of-Business Record Systems

Before 1991, BATF kept the Out-of-Business records in paper hard copy filed at the Out-of-Business Records Center. In 1991, they began a major project to microfilm these paper records and destroy the hard copy. This project not only included the licensee’s "Bound Book" (Acquisition/Disposition records), but also every ATF Form 4473, which contains name, address, height, weight, race, date of birth, place of birth, and driver’s license number (or other ID). (GAO Report T-GGD-96-104, 04/25/96)

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Computer Assisted Retrieval System (CARS)


In 1992, BATF began creating a computerized "index" (based on firearm serial number and dealer license number) to the microfilmed Out-of-Business records. Data was originally captured on minicomputers and transferred to a mainframe computer database. The retrieval system, called "CARS" (Computer Assisted Retrieval System), was reported in a 1995 letter to Tanya K. Metaksa of the NRA.


Notwithstanding the conclusions of the Government Accounting Office in 1996 that this system complied with legislative restrictions, this combination of automated and manual retrieval of individual sales records is a de facto system of registration of firearms, firearm owners and firearm transaction specifically prohibited by 18 U.S.C. 926(a).

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Microfilm Retrieval System (MRS)


By March, 2004, BATF acknowledged the existence of their advanced automated Microfilm Retrieval System (MRS) containing information on 380 million firearms with an additional 1 million firearms added per month. This system had been enlarged from the previous system (CARS) to contain not only firearm serial numbers, but the manufacturer and importer as well. Additional data fields have been added to help identify specific firearms. (April Pattavina, 2005)


More recently (since at least 2005), ATF has been converting microfilmed dealer out-of-business records to "digital images". It is not clear whether this is a digitized "picture" file of the microfilm, or a digital record of the individual acquisition/disposition. Regardless of the storage method, and whether access to the detail A/D record is automated or manual, this system is precisely a system of registration of firearms, firearm owners and firearm transactions specifically prohibited by 18 U.S.C. 926(a).


In a paper presented to the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, Switzerland, published in 2003, Gary L. Thomas, Chief, Firearms Programs Division, BATF, discussed the planned digitization of Out-of-Business dealer, importer, and manufacturer records, mentioned the projected cost, and noted it would not require any legislative or regulatory changes. Shortly thereafter, the digitization project appeared in the Congressional Appropriations Bill.

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From the 2005 Appropriations Bill:

"Conversion of Records. The conferees recognize the need for ATF to complete the conversion of tens of thousands of existing Federal firearms dealer out-of-business records from film to digital images at the ATF National Tracing Center. Once the out-of-business records are fully converted, search time for these records will be reduced significantly. The conference agreement includes $4,200,000 for the ATF to hire additional contract personnel to continue the conversion and integration of records."

Since 1979 Appropriations Bills specifically prohibited centralizing these same records, by stating:

"Provided, That no funds appropriated herein shall be available for salaries or administrative expenses in connection with consolidating or centralizing, within the Department of Justice, the records, or any portion thereof, of acquisition and disposition of firearms maintained by Federal firearms licensees:"

With convoluted logic, BATF has consistently acknowledged the appropriations restriction and 18 U.S.C. 926(a), yet continues to consolidate and centralize all possible Acquisition/Disposition records in defiance of the law. BATF proclaimed that by not creating new "rules or regulations" (until Ruling 2008-2), they haven’t violated 18 U.S.C. 926(a). This obvious technicality is intended to evade the law and thwart the Will of Congress. By issuing Ruling 2008-2, BATF, responsible for enforcing the law, is blatantly violating the law.

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Firearms Tracing System (FTS)

The Firearms Tracing System (FTS) contains firearm tracing information from all traces performed since 1989. The data also includes over 460,000 (2003) Multiple Sales reports (ATF F 3310.4 - a registration record with specific firearms and name and address), all guns "suspected" as being used for criminal purposes, as well over one million (2003) detail results from all traces (which would certainly include Name and Address of all known sellers and purchasers). This includes data manually collected from Out-of-Business records.

Suspect guns include (a few of BATF’s own examples), individuals purchasing large quantities of firearms (including collectors of older firearms rarely used in crime), and dealers with "improper" record keeping. BATF continually refers to these records as "Crime Guns". Nothing could be further from the truth. No doubt, some traced firearms have been used in a crime. However, many, many others were traced by Law Enforcement for some other reason. Some were traced because they have been innocently carried in a car. Others have been traced because they were found in an apartment house where an unrelated crime occurred. Other firearms, particularly from Mexican sources, were seized (and traced) because mere possession is a crime. If BATF seizes guns from a collector (even if he is later found innocent), the guns are traced.

Once a gun is traced, even falsely or in error, the data is kept in the trace file. Many older firearms have identical serial numbers, which will result in multiple erroneous traces. In attempts to accomplish a trace, Law Enforcement will frequently enter partial serial numbers to attempt a match, which results in additional false traces. Additional firearms data has been included in this system, but the sources are obscure. There are even reports that state firearm registration systems have been loaded into the tracing system, but this is unproven.

The Firearms Tracing System is system is filled with irrelevant data from which BATF attempts to make nonsensical connections. Simply throwing irrelevant data into a records system will not ensure any kind of meaningful result. (See Garbage In, Garbage Out in the Conclusions below). Untold millions of taxpayer dollars have been, and continue to be spent to create, maintain and enlarge this questionable system.

Whether all these systems of records are being combined into one huge data base is unknown. Regardless, from a data processing standpoint, each system can easily be linked to all the other systems and subsystems for tracing and registration purposes. Each of these, individually, are systems of registration of firearms, firearm owners and firearm transactions specifically prohibited by 18 U.S.C. 926(a).

BATF is so proud of their Firearms Tracing System (FTS), they offer on-line access to the records by two other systems.

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Online LEAD

Online LEAD is available to all state and local law enforcement in the United States at ATF field offices throughout the country. "Online LEAD was developed as a partnership between Idea, The K.W. Tunnell Company Federal Services Group, and ATF, and was initially launched on a limited release in November of 1999."

"ATF special agents are privy to the names and addresses of any individuals involved in multiple sales transactions or ..... gun traces (note: even false or erroneous traces) where the individual is the purchaser, possessor, and/or associate in the transaction." (Prosecutor’s Guide to the ATF, 2003)

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Another computer system (eTrace) is available on the internet - world-wide! BATF publicized world access to this System in United Nations Disarmament Marking and Tracing Workshops held in Nairobi, Kenya in December, 2007, Lomé, Togo in April, 2008, Rio de Janeiro in June, 2008, and other locations. BATF reported (in 2007) some 10,000 individuals representing over 1620 law enforcement agencies around the world (now over 2,000 agencies) have access to our firearms data. Tracing data is obviously of no value without identifying the individual purchaser (name & address). BATF specifically provides "a description of the original retail purchaser"). In GAO Report 09-709, BATF reports the National Tracing Center, "conducts the gun traces, and returns information on their findings to the submitting party." Corrupt Mexican Police? See below.

The Firearm Tracing System provides manual & automated retrieval from previous traces, Out-of-Business records, and the traditional phone calls to the manufacturer, distributor and final dealer. Your detail personal information and information on your guns is directly available to 31 foreign governments, including close cooperation with governments having known corruption issues. Trace requests have also been received from 58 foreign governments (some with terrorist connections). Mexico and Columbia have each been provided with their own in-country tracing center with full access to BATF’s records.

The countries with formal, direct eTrace access to our gun records include Mexico, Columbia, Suriname, Tobago, Guyana, Canada, Germany, Bahamas, Jamaica, The Dominican Republic, Barbados, Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Aruba, Curacao, Dominica, Grenada, St Vincent, The Grenadines, St. Lucia, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, St. Kitts, Nevis, several Caribbean police forces, Britain, Australia, and Japan. How many of these countries have police corruption issues?

A Spanish language version of the eTrace System is under development, and BATF admits a specific goal to provide eTrace software to all 31 states within the Republic of Mexico. (William Hoover, Assistant Director, Field Operations, BATF, Feb. 7, 2008).

Did anyone notice that the Mexican Army recently disarmed corrupt Mexican Police in the cities (or states) of Tijuana, Cancun, Rosarito, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros? And arrested a number of Police Commanders in Mexico City? Or that "Almost half of Mexican police officers examined this year have failed background and security tests, a figure that rises to nearly 9 of 10 cops in the border state of Baja California", as reported by the Mexican Government. Additional reports indicate the Mexican Army may be just as corrupt as the Mexican Police.

During FY 2007 and 2008, BATF conducted twelve eTrace training sessions for Mexican Police in several Mexican locations, including (guess where?) Mexico City, Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo, and Matamoros. (GAO Report 09-709) The most corrupt police in all of Mexico have been trained by BATF to access eTrace gun data and our personal information.

Should we be uneasy because a corrupt Mexican Police official has our personal information because of an erroneous trace? The next time we travel in Mexico, will the Mexican Police take a special interest in us because of a false trace? When we cross the border, will corrupt Mexican Police send someone from a drug cartel to visit our homes to collect our firearms while we are gone? The eTrace system is doing a grave disservice to American Citizens by placing us at risk when we travel to foreign countries.

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Make no mistake - a Firearms Tracing System is a euphemism for a firearms registration system. It does not matter if the system includes all firearms or all owners, nor if the system is manual or automated. If it records and registers "firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions" it is in clear violation of 18 U.S.C. 926(a).

In a virtual registration manifesto, BATF clearly outlined a path to implementation of firearms registration (tracing) in "Structures And Institutions Necessary To Support The Effective Operation Of A Firearms Tracing Mechanism", a paper presented to the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2003, by Gary L. Thomas, Chief, Firearms Programs Division, BATF. Mr. Thomas admitted some "enhancements" to tracing (Registration) required "legislative and regulatory" changes". (Such as removing the Second Amendment, and 18 U.S.C. 926(a)?)


BATF publications clearly document they have no idea how many guns are being sold at gun shows and other private sales, but this has not stopped them from publically proclaiming that many crime guns and many guns smuggled to Mexico come from gun shows and other private sales. This serves their goal of advocating registering all used guns in addition to new ones.

The potential for abuse of these registration systems is huge. For example, records can easily be sorted to report all buyers of .223 and 5.56mm rifles - or all buyers of .50 BMG rifles, or all purchases by any individual or street address. They can also be used to round up guns in any local area during a "national emergency". Does anyone remember the brutal roundup of guns in New Orleans during Katrina?

Regardless of protests to contrary by BATF, if any automated record system contains individual names and addresses, those records can easily be accessed and extracted by name and address.

As BATF continues to enlarge their tracing function, they are creating more backdoor firearms registration records. BATF statutory authority must be challenged. Originally, tracing was intended to be handled by phone calls to the manufacturer or importer, followed by calls to the distributer, and finally to the dealer. By claiming a need to increase "efficiency" and computerize more records under the guise of a Firearm Tracking System, BATF created a massive backdoor system of registration of firearms, firearm owners and firearm transactions specifically prohibited by 18 U.S.C. 926(a).

The ultimate goal of a BATF tracing system is full registration of every new and used firearm and every firearm owner in the United States . BATF’s Gary L. Thomas, in his UN paper mentioned above, refers to the "Gold Standard" of tracing being "web-based registration and tracing". Registration, of course, has been explicitly and consistently forbidden by Congress, but that doesn’t stop BATF.

BATF claims these systems are necessary for effective tracing, but 18 U.S.C. 926(a) was not put in place for the convenience of BATF, but implemented specifically to protect firearms owners and prevent creating a national firearms registration system. Using legal technicalities, BATF deliberately rationalized evading this law and the appropriations restriction to justify creating and maintaining backdoor registration systems in defiance of the law and thwarting the Will of Congress.

Saving all data from erroneous and false traces, adding mostly innocent multiple gun purchase data and throwing more questionable data into the mix does not improve the quality of the output. Allowing corrupt foreign police traces, and providing output to corrupt foreign police further compounds the problem.

BATF has spent untold millions of taxpayer dollars creating registration (tracing) systems, yet Law Enforcement effectiveness is limited at best, and worthless in many cases. Dr. Paul Blackman put it best in his paper "Uses and Limitations of BATF Tracing Data" in 1998. His conclusion? "Garbage In, Garbage Out". This old data processing principle describes the fact that computers will unquestioningly process the most nonsensical input data and produce nonsensical detail or statistical output. BATF tries to convince Congress, Law Enforcement, and the Public that BATF systems produce "Garbage In, Gospel Out". Such is not the case.

To paraphrase Dr. Blackman: When garbage data is processed (as in BATF Firearms Tracing Systems), garbage will be produced as output. Analyses of tracing data, however performed, are like discussions of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. There is no need to carefully evaluate the data or the analyses; they are worthless.

Perhaps BATF personnel have read "How to Lie with Statistics" by Darrell Huff, written in 1954. Processing garbage data into meaningless statistics is much worse than worthless - it is deliberately misleading. By manipulating data, statistics easily can be produced to show whatever BATF wants to show - even patterns of "Gun Trafficking". Over 100 years ago, Mark Twain said it very well, "Figures don’t lie, but liars do figure", Lenin went on to say, "A lie told often enough becomes truth".

Information in this report has been extracted from official News Reports and official government sources, including speeches by BATF employees, BATF Official Papers, Reports and Publications, BATF Testimony before Congress, Government Accounting Office (GAO) Reports, and many other sources.


Partial Bibliography:

Information Technology and the Criminal Justice System, April Pattavina, 2005

Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide, 2005, ATF Publication 5300.4

The Uses And Limitations Of BATF Tracing Data For Law Enforcement, Policymaking, And Criminological

Research by Paul H. Blackman, Ph.D, 1998


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