MAPC LAWYERS PUBLISH “Was it an Accident? Licensed Gun Dealers Can Lose Their Licenses for ‘Willful’ Violations of the Gun Control Act”

”Willful” acts in violation of law by a firearm dealer can carry dire consequences. Criminal prosecution is possible, and under federal law, a single “willful” violation of the Gun Control Act (“GCA”) can result in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (commonly referred to as “ATF”) revoking a dealer’s Federal Firearm License (“FFL”). MAPC has released a memorandum to educate FFL’s on how to avoid these problems.

As commonly used, “willful” means deliberate, voluntary, or intentional. But words can have a different meaning in the legal world than they do in normal use. “Willful” for example. Originally, the GCA did not have a “willfulness” requirement. FFLs could be revoked by ATF for even innocent violations. This led to injustice, and, in 1986, ATF abuses led Congress to amend the GCA – specifically, 18 U.S.C. § 923(e)) – “to ensure that licenses are not revoked for inadvertent errors or technical mistakes,” as stated in the Senate Report on the issue. In amending the law n 1986, the Senate adopted the view of the court in Rich v. United States, 383 F. Supp. 797 (S.D. Ohio 1974), which rejected mere negligence as a standard for revoking an FFL license. Instead, the Senate endorsed the position that “willful” means “purposeful, intentional behavior.”

Although Congress adopted this more limited standard, courts have nonetheless continually struggled to articulate a definitive standard for “willful.” Several distinct definitions have resulted. The court decisions discussed in the MAPC memo show that a dealer’s acts can be considered “willful” when done repeatedly, after prior warnings, and even without any deliberate intent to violate the law. Thus, in the legal realm, “willful” may include reckless or indifferent acts. Consequently, repeated mistakes and oversights can be considered “willful” even without intent to violate the law involved, especially if they are committed after warning and instruction from ATF. And when courts determine whether a dealer’s acts are “reckless” or “indifferent,” the dealer is at the mercy of the court, because even those terms are not expressly defined. Dealers would do well to educate themselves by reading the MAPC memo that is posted at

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