An Arizona gun store owner wants to know why an ATF inspector, whom he captured on video, took numerous photos of his sales records on her personal phone.
Dave Nagel, owner of Mesa, Arizona-based Black Metal Firearms, says Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Industry Operations Inspector Pamela Scott performed the suspicious examination of his company’s records late last year.
Ms. Scott told him she saw some errors that he believed to be minor, and she appeared to be wrapping up her review at one point, he said. But that was when things went awry.
Ms. Scott and her assistant began to take photos of the store’s Acquisitions and Dispensations (A&D) books. It’s a detailed log of all the guns sold at the shop, and the identities of buyers.
Mr. Nagel said the ATF’s actions were unusual because inspectors who have visited his store in the past had never done this.
“We noticed that she was taking pictures of everything,” Mr. Nagel told The Washington Times. “And once we started seeing her taking pictures of everything, we asked her what that was all about.”
He recalled, “She said, ‘It’s within the scope of my investigation.’ We said, ‘It looks like you’re making a registry because you’re taking pictures of everyone’s name.’”
Ms. Scott denied she was doing this, Mr. Nagel said. “That would be illegal,” she told him, he said, referencing the federal law barring the ATF from creating and maintaining a database of civilian American firearm ownership.
He said in previous visits by the ATF, it wasn’t unusual for the inspector to take pictures of isolated pages if a specific entry was in question.
“Previously, whenever there was a clerical error or something egregious, we’ve noticed that they would take a picture of the error,” Mr. Nagel said, calling such discrepancies “usually minor stuff.”
“There’s a block that says ‘parish/borough/county,’ and most people will write ‘USA’ because they see ‘country’ not ‘county,’” he said. “So we have to have them fix that. It’s small little things like that that add up to clerical errors. But in the course of 4,000 entries, it’s common to have a mistake or two here and there. And for documentation purposes, we didn’t think anything of it.”
But he said this particular visit was very different.
“At that point, because we noticed that she was copying every single page out of the book and we started recording her,” he said. “They definitely had some sort of database system open at one point in time, but I don’t know if they were checking or if they were entering.”
According to Mr. Nagel, after the audit was completed in February, they reviewed the clerical errors and all the issues that Ms. Scott had asked to be corrected.
“I’m not going to say we did not have clerical errors. We did fix those clerical errors. Every error that we had in there, was taken care of before she left,” he said.
According to Mr. Nagel, the only issue she did not want to let go of related to two customers with active concealed carry permits who presented expired permits.
“And at the end of it, she said she was going to revoke our license, So we went and found a lawyer to help us try to retain our license. And beyond that, it’s been a long waiting game,” Mr. Nagel said, who had never failed an ATF inspection during his seven years in business.
“[Ms. Scott] is retired now, but we started hearing right after our audit how many other shops she has hit up, and almost every single person that she’s hit up, she has been revoking their license as well,” he said.
The ATF refused to comment about the Black Metal Firearms inspection, whose video of the ATF review went viral.
Mr. Nagel’s attorney, Derek Debus, said he has spoken to other federal firearms licensees in the region who have expressed concerns about that particular investigator’s conduct.
“She’s kind of colloquially known in the area as the angel of death. She’s extremely nitpicky with the technical violations and will report people for violations that are later overturned,” Mr. Debus said. “She recommends revocation in the vast majority of investigations. She’s pretty well known in the local community.”
“We are unable to comment on any specific investigation or inspection; however, ATF’s inspection procedures are clearly explained in the Industry Operations Manual,” said Erik Longnecker, an ATF spokesman. “Copies can be retained when there is a legal basis, e.g., when documenting violations.”
Mr. Debus countered, “The only difference between what she did in this case, and the routine rule-breaking that the ATF industry operations inspectors do is that she got caught.”
“It’s been known in the legal community that ATF inspectors are doing these types of practices solely to kind of speed things up and make it so … they can work from their office rather than in the shop like they’re supposed to. But she just happened to be caught on video,” he said.
The manual, which was attained through a Freedom of Information Act Request in 2019 by Gun Owners of America, says that inspectors can only take copies of a gun dealer’s documents from the premises if they are being used to document infractions, according to the publication The Reload.
“If a printout of the licensee’s inventory is used, the [inspector] shall retain only those pages or entries that document a violation,” the ATF manual said. “All other pages shall be returned to the licensee. [Inspectors] are not authorized to remove a licensee’s records (or copies of records) from the licensed premises only for convenience purposes or other reasons lacking a legal basis.”
“If a printout of the licensee’s inventory is used, the [inspector] shall retain only those pages or entries that document a violation,” the ATF manual says.
Mr. Debus expressed concern about what happens to the photographs of the logs.
“With these digital photographs that are cataloged on her personal cellphone, not even her work cellphone that’s subject to public records requests and Freedom of Information Act requests — but her personal cellphone is extremely concerning, because what information was taken? When if ever is it going to be returned?” he asked.
• Kerry Picket can be reached at email@example.com.
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