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Court Decisions and Precedent
Am. Arms Int’l v. Herbert
The dealer had multiple GCA violations over a period of years. The first inspection occurred in 1984. See id. at 79. Over the next 19 years the dealer had repeated bookkeeping and clerical violations. See id. at 80-81. Finally, in 2003, when multiple violations were discovered, ATF issued a Notice of Revocation of License. The dealer’s FFL was revoked by ATF for “willfully” engaging in repeat violations of the GCA. ATF’s decision was appealed and the Fourth Circuit discussed the definition of “willful.” The court determined “‘[A] single, or even a few, inadvertent errors’” would not amount to a “willful” violation. At some point, however, a repeated failure to comply with known regulations can move a licensee’s conduct from inadvertent neglect into reckless or deliberate disregard (and thus willfulness), where the “number and seriousness [of violations] . . . in the face of repeated warnings undoubtedly satisf[ied] the willfulness requirement.”
Armalite, Inc. v. Lambert
ATF revoked the FFL for ArmaLite’s Ohio location due to repeated alleged violations of the GCA. Specifically, in 2004, Armalite failed to complete two NICS background checks, omitted identification from three buyers, improperly executed or completed eleven forms, and failed to separate Form 4473 transactions four times. Despite being notified by ATF of the violations, including being given instruction on how to remedy the violations, and being warned that future violations of the same kind may be considered “willful” violations, ArmaLite continued to improperly complete various 4473 forms, and committed several other new violations, including improperly recording firearms in its inventory. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals clarified its previous decisions, saying that an FFL only commits a “willful” violation when it “intentionally, knowingly or [with plain indifference] recklessly violates known legal requirements.
Article II Gun Shop, Inc. v. Gonzalez
In this case out of the Seventh Circuit the dealer repeatedly violated the GCA. But, as the dissent pointed out, the dealer was responsible for some 51,240 pieces of information on the A&D and 4473 forms, and omitted only 19 of them. The dealer’s defense was that omitting the information was not material because the required information was attached to the ATF form. The court rejected that argument and held that making mistakes after being aware of the record keeping requirements, together with having previously made those mistakes, suffices for revocation. Article II Gun Shop, Inc. v Gonzales, 441 F.3d 492, 494 (7th Cir. 2006).
Borchardt Rifle Corp. v. Cook
The firearms dealer had multiple GCA violations over several years, with the first compliance inspection of Borchardt Rifle occurring in 2002. Id. at 1148. From the period of 2002 until 2009, when the ATF revocation of Borchardt Rifle’s FFL came before the court, the dealer had a number of violations. While the court reiterated that “[n]egligence is insufficient to show willfulness,” and that “the element of willfulness is rarely provable by direct evidence,” it relied on the circumstantial evidence in the record and came to the conclusion that “the undisputed evidence . . . conclusively establishe[d] that Borchardt Rifle was aware of the regulations imposed on it and yet, despite that knowledge, Bordchart Rifle continued to violate those same regulations.”
Jim’s Pawn Shop, Inc. v. Bowers
In this Fourth Circuit District Court case, the District Court found that although the licensee repeatedly violated the GCA, the licensee’s conduct was not “willful.” Beginning in 1996 and continuing through 2005, ATF inspectors found multiple clerical and bookkeeping errors, which can be considered violations of the GCA. Finally, on June 6, 2005, ATF issued a Final Notice of Revocation of Firearms License to both businesses, asserting that the various violations of the GCA were “willful.” ATF relied primarily on the petitioner’s repeated violations to establish willfulness. Although some of the dealer’s alleged violations were repeat violations, the court found that they did not constitute the type of ‘“conscious, intentional, deliberate, [and] voluntary”’ actions that are deemed willful and overruled the revocation of the federal firearms licenses. The court further held the dealer was not required to take ATF’s suggestion to install a computer system, and the dealers failure to do so did not constitute “willfulness.”
The General Store v. Richard Van Loan
In this Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the court affirmed the ATF’s revocation of The General Store’s FFL, citing numerous “willful” violations of the GCA. Over a three years span, The General Store received Reports of Violations, Repeat Violations, and ultimately Notice, and Final Notice, of Revocation of Firearms License from the ATF. During that time, the General Store failed to keep accurate records of when firearms were acquired and disposed, transfer dates, and when firearms were received and returned for repairs. The Court of Appeals disagreed. According to the Court of Appeals, “willful” acts may include a reckless violation, or even plain indifference, to the law. The General Store acted “willfully” for purposes of the GCA when it understood requirements of law but knowingly failed to follow or was consciously indifferent to law.
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