The gun store behind a viral video showing potential misconduct by the ATF wants an investigation into the matter.
Dave Nagel, owner of Black Metal Firearms in Mesa, Arizona, said he was outraged by an ATF inspector taking pictures of his sales records on her personal phone last December. He spoke to The Reload after a video he posted of the inspector photographing his sales records racked up tens of thousands of views on Instagram and received coverage in multiple gun publications. Now he wants an explanation for the inspector’s actions.
“The world wants to see what’s going on here,” Nagel told The Reload. “If the right people can take that information, hold the ATF accountable for what they’re doing, help put an end to these practices, and save a few people’s livelihoods. That’s all this is about.”
The ATF declined to say whether it is investigating the inspector over Nagel’s video or accusations.
“We are unable to comment on any specific investigation or inspection,” Erik Longnecker, Deputy Chief of Public Affairs Division for the ATF, told The Reload. “However, any claims reported by the licensee to ATF would be investigated.”
The dispute represents a high-profile flashpoint between the agency and the industry it oversees. It comes as the ATF implements President Joe Biden’s “zero tolerance” approach toward regulating gun makers and dealers. It may test how well the agency, under freshly-confirmed director Steve Dettelbach, can continue to foster relationships with the gun businesses it heavily relies on to report potential crimes while revoking licenses over what the industry views as minor infractions, utilizing controversial enforcement tactics, or allowing infractions by agency staff to go unpunished.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group, said it has already contacted the agency over the incident. The group said it would be watching how the ATF responds as a potential tell of where its relationship with the industry is headed.
“NSSF is deeply troubled by this IOI’s conduct and her statements,” Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the group, told The Reload. “We are raising our concerns with ATF. This will be the first test for the new director to see if he will hold his staff to the same standard as ATF is holding licensees.”
Nagel alleges ATF Industry Operations Inspector (IOI) Pamela Scott began a review of his company’s records just before Christmas 2021. He said she identified some errors he considered to be relatively minor. Those errors included selling guns to two customers who had active concealed-carry permits but presented copies of the expired licenses and failing to record when store staff checked out sound suppressors. He emphasized the shop never sold a gun to anyone who is not legally allowed to own one.
“At the end of it all, she said, ‘Okay, well, here’s your close out of your audit. Here’s all the errors you had,’ which we’d fixed before she even finished,” Nagel said. “We were working with her side by side to make sure that the clerical errors were addressed.”
He said the inspection took a strange turn when she started taking pictures of the company’s Acquisitions and Dispensations (A&D) books, which catalog the guns sold by the shop as well as who bought them. He said that unnerved him because it was out of line with how inspectors have previously handled reviews of his records.
“Previously speaking, when they find errors, they will take a picture of the error for evidence purposes or whatnot,” Nagel said. “But we realized that her and, at another point in time, her assistant, they actually were going page by page by page through all of our A&D books, copying all of the whole pages.”
Longnecker would not confirm if Pamela Scott was the IOI assigned to Black Metal Firearms because “ATF does not generally identify non-supervisory employees.” He did say inspectors are required to make copies of sales records if they are evidence of “significant omissions and errors” by the dealer. He said using phones to take pictures has become a more common practice for doing that in recent years.
“Years ago, those exhibits were generally made with portable copy machines,” Longnecker said. “As technology has advanced, cameras have become the most efficient method for documenting violations as part of a compliance inspection.”
However, he noted that ATF policy includes “a caveat that only records that document violations shall be photocopied or scanned.” Longnecker said the agency’s “inspection procedures are open and transparent,” with a copy of the Industry Operation Manual being made public due to a Freedom of Information Act Request in 2019 by Gun Owners of America.
That manual explains that inspectors can only remove copies of a gun dealer’s documents from the premises if they are being used to document infractions.
“If a printout of the licensee’s inventory is used, the IOI shall retain only those pages or entries that document a violation,” the ATF manual said. “All other pages shall be returned to the licensee. IOIs 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.”
Nagel said the inspector took pictures of over 4,000 records, the vast majority of which were not related to the infractions she is seeking to revoke Black Metal Firearms’ license over. He also claimed she used her personal phone, instead of one issued by the ATF, to take pictures of the records.
“We confronted her about that and said, ‘What are you doing?'” Nagel explained. “She said, ‘it’s part of my investigation.’ And we said ‘a lot of our customers are concerned with you copying their personal information.'”
Nagel said the inspector didn’t give him a reason for why she needed to take pictures of his entire A&D book.
“She says, ‘sounds like your customers are just being paranoid,'” he said. “No explanation was offered.”
He asked the inspector if she was trying to create a searchable digital database of his sales records, something barred under Arizona and federal law.
“She goes, ‘no, that would be illegal,'” Nagel said. “So, we just basically said, ‘Okay, I don’t know what else to do. I mean, we know what you’re doing is wrong.’ So, we started recording. We recorded an awful lot between all of us. It wasn’t just one day’s worth. It was several days’ worth. We have a lot of footage of it occurring.”
Derek Debus, who is representing Black Metal Firearms, called the inspector’s actions “extremely concerning.” He told The Reload they raise many questions that the ATF needs to answer.
“Why does she need copies of her personal phone?” Debus asked. “There’s absolutely no reason. In the acquisitions of dispositions (AD) book, she’s got access to contact information, payment information, information on what was purchased, when it was purchased, by whom, and where those firearms are located.”
He said an investigation into how often the inspector and other IOIs copy and keep more records than they are supposed to under ATF rules is warranted.
“We would like to see an investigation into not only why she was taking these photographs on her personal phone in my client’s case, but how many other times she has done this before,” Debus said. “Why is she doing this? What end is she trying to fulfill? And is it something that she was directed to do from higher up in ATF or something she’s doing on her own?”
Nagel said he believes the practice may be fairly widespread given how nonchalant the inspector was about making copies of his records. H
“She thought it was perfectly okay. She did it in front of customers. She was quite brazen about it,” he said. “And she basically told us that if we didn’t let her do her thing, she was just gonna take our license right there and then.”
There’s only one solution for what happened in his mind.
“The only outcome that I think is acceptable is that this practice has to be terminated immediately,” Nagel said.