Two warrantless ATF agents and a state trooper visited a Delaware gun owner on July 12 and asked to see his recently bought guns. They told the man the home visit was part of a straw purchase investigation.
Straw purchases are a federal crime where a person buys a firearm or firearms for another person who cannot legally buy firearms themselves. The crime is punishable by up to $250,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.
The entire interaction was recorded on the gun owner’s doorbell camera.
Lee Williams, the chief editor of the investigative reporting project at the Second Amendment Foundation, first broke the story.
Williams told The Epoch Times that the man was a law-abiding citizen living in an upper-middle-class neighborhood and it was the first time the gun owner had ATF agents knock on his door.
He declined to disclose the man’s identity for fear of retribution against his source.
“You don’t expect three armed guys showing up at your front door. He knew they couldn’t come in without a warrant, but he was flustered, and his reaction was like, ‘Did I do anything wrong?’” Williams said.
According to the surveillance videos, one of the agents assured the gun owner that he did nothing wrong. The agents told him that they just wanted to see the firearms he just bought and verify the serial numbers, and then they would leave.
The gun owner purchased multiple firearms as of January 2022.
“He showed them one rifle and the agents left. He regrets doing that now,” Williams said.
The ATF agents obtained his firearm purchase records from the dealer. Under the Gun Control Act, federally licensed gun stores must report to ATF if they sell multiple firearms to the same buyer within a certain time window; ATF can in turn use that information for investigation purposes.
Williams said over his ten years of reporting gun issues, he rarely heard of warrantless ATF agents showing up at law-abiding citizens’ homes and asking to see their guns.
ATF agents visited the Delaware man the day before new ATF director Steven Dettelbach was sworn in office.
Gun Owners of America lawyer Stephen Stamboulieh told The Epoch Times, “Anytime armed government agents come to your house to ‘make sure’ that you have what you just bought is concerning. Most people would be too frightened not to speak with them, but in the USA, we have the right to remain silent.”
President of gun rights organization Maryland Shall Issue and lawyer Mark Pennak said there is a renewed effort to enforce straw purchases under the current administration.
“Knock and talk is a standard law enforcement technique. I tell my clients that they should invoke their 6th amendment rights and respectfully decline to talk with law enforcement without an attorney present,” Pennak told The Epoch Times in an email.
ATF spokesperson Erik Longnecker told The Epoch Times that the agency could not comment on details of any ongoing investigations.
According to the Don’t Lie campaign website, most criminals use older, recycled firearms—not firearms recently bought from licensed dealers. The website says that straw purchasing is not a common method for criminals to get guns.
The campaign was launched by ATF and the National Shooting Sports Foundation in 2000 to raise awareness of the severe consequences of straw purchases and teach dealers how to detect would-be straw purchasers.
According to the latest ATF data, the national average time-to-crime—the time span between the initial purchase of a firearm and the time that it is used in a crime—in 2020 was seven years (pdf).