ATF gun store theft warning system may be ineffectual

Based on feedback from gun stores, an automated system implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to warn nearby dealers of thefts from other area shops may be off to a rough start.

As reported by The Trace, a nonprofit funded in part by Everytown, the ATF’s new fflAlert call system has not lived up to expectations in real world deployment.

Announced in late January in an official letter from ATF Deputy Director Thomas Brandon and pushed through the agency’s social media channels, fflAlert is an initiative designed to notify area federal firearms license holders via telephone when another licensee in their county has experienced a theft. Billed as making calls during traditional business hours seven days a week, the victimized FFL would not be identified and there is no need to return the automated call.

The notification system came because of over 500 burglaries reported at gun stores nationwide, with 9,281 firearms reported as stolen from FFLs during 2016. Another 9,113 guns were reported as lost.

Following up in counties where gun shops experienced recent losses, the Trace contacted 25 licensed dealers in areas where FFLs were burglarized in April and May and found that 21 did not recall receiving an automated call from the ATF about the thefts.

To be sure, in most cases, the dealer contacted knew of recent thefts from neighboring stores, but it was by word of mouth, media reports, or in-person visits from ATF personnel. However, in at least seven cases, the news that an area FFL had suffered a loss was new to those contacted.

In response from the ATF about fflAlert’s small ratio of fruitful contacts found by The Trace, agency spokesperson Mary Markos said the system is designed to call area gun stores only once.

“Unfortunately, we do not have a system in place to continue calling until someone answers, but the system does leave the information on voicemail,” said Markos. “As it is a new program, we will continue to modify and refine it to increase its effectiveness.”