FOIA Uncovers ATF and Legacy Media Working Together

ATF Police Raid IMG 2nd
ATF Police Raid IMG 2nd

SPRINGFIELD, VA -( When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) told Representative Michael Cloud’s (R-TX) office that it held nearly one billion out of business records, Gun Owners of America (GOA) called it an illegal gun registry. The legacy media newspaper, USA Today, issued a “fact check” stating that the claim was false. Now thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by GOA and Gun Owners Foundation (GOF), we know how much of a role the ATF played in determining the rating.

Last January,  the ATF answered an inquire by Rep Cloud’s office stating that it held nearly one billion records in its Out of Business Office in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The vast majority of the records were digitized, and the ATF’s Firearms Trace Center had access to the documents. Although the ATF claims the records are not searchable by anything other than the former federal firearms licensee (FFL) name, by just selecting a few options in the software, those records could be usable by using optical character recognition (OCR).

A new FOIA request by GOA and GOF shows the communication between the USA Today fact checker, ATF’s former Chief of the Public Affairs Division, April Langwell, and former ATF Associate Deputy Director Thomas Chittum. Mr. Chittum has left the ATF to work for ShotSpotter. Ms. Langwell also recently left the ATF to work as the Director of Communications for the United States Marine Corp (USMC).

In the exchange, the unnamed fact-checker asked about the alleged registry. Ms. Langwell and Mr. Chittum denied the existence of the gun registry. Mr. Chittum replied that there was no firearms registry and handed off the conversation to Ms. Langwell. Ms. Langwell repeated the claim that the database is only searchable by FFL name. She stated that the ATF doesn’t consider the digitally scanned records to be a gun registry. The fact checker did not follow up on how easy it would be to turn on optical character recognition. The fact checker seemed to accept Ms. Langwell’s claims at face value.

The issue the fact checker overlooked is that according to the email exchange, the records are stored in PDF format. The PDF file format is the product of Adobe. Adobe Acrobat is needed to read the documents in the file format. The ability to OCR documents is built into Adobe Acrobat and can be applied to a PDF in as little as two clicks.

The ATF also told USA Today that all records had been digitized as of 2017. This claim contradicts what the ATF told Congressman Michael Cloud (R-TX). The fact checker did ask Ms. Langwell about the discrepancy. The ATF repeated the claim to the fact checker that the ATF completed the move to a digital format in 2017. The fact checker never followed up on why the ATF told USA Today something different than what the Bureau told Congress. Someone received the wrong information from the ATF, and it is unclear who has the incorrect information.

GOF and GOA were deeply troubled by USA Today’s “fact checking” methods. They point out that the paper discounted the mountains of evidence and the ATF’s own statements on the matter.

“ATF openly admitted to USA Today that ‘scanning out of business records began in 2005’ and now ATF ‘processes an average of 5.5 million’ records containing private gun and owner information into its database per month,” said Aidan Johnston, Director of Federal Affairs, Gun Owners of America. “We are disappointed that this ‘journalist’ simply reported ATF’s denial of an illegal gun registry as truth, without any critical thinking whatsoever.”

USA Today did not respond to AmmoLand’s request for comment.

About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at

John Crump

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There’s a reason I don’t read USA TODAY, and this is one of them!


Yeap, I watched as they got their marching orders. They used to have good content about a decade ago.


I read USA Today on a very selective basis just as I read NYT and WaPo and other Progressive New Left rags. I took training years ago in propaganda analysis and want to keep my skills sharp. That is the only reason I read those rags. I read between the lines gleaning whatever bits of truth they might accidentally let slip and also I want to see in what direction their magical thinking is headed today. Otherwise you are better off reading Peking Review or Pravda to get truth. Semper Fidelis


That’s pretty cool


there is one good thing about commies talking with their guard down ,,they brag, so we find out the truth, if they told congress they were digitizing,congress under trump would have said no or trump may have stopped them, someone needs to inject a worm in that database hope the next congress makes them destroy all the records and allows ffls to destroy records if atf closes them


In PLAIN ENGLIS; the ‘atf/aft’ HAS AN ILLEGAL SEARCHABLE GUN REGISTRY of American gun owners!


F squad or BATFE. They are not a 3-letter agency. They wish they were.


the atf has been criminal from day1


FJB and the criminals at the ATF. They both expell the stench of corruption


Just another corrupt alphabet government agency infringing our rights and run by ruthless people.

Arm up and stay ready.

Wild Bill

Created by a Sec. Treas. memo; and can be destroyed by a memo.


Are you really that naive to believe they didn’t create a registry with the use of the background checks to purchase a firearm ? Why do you think they want the serial number ?


good way to make them crazy have an ffl that only did c&r most transfers would be no serial ,and 100s of non guns(pre 1898 ) on books off books no names just description and dates…my Winchester is a non gun 1873made in 1870s


I agree. There’s a number they give the FFL with each 4473 BG check. Those numbers are most likely all in a file and cross referenced with everything the government knows about the purchaser down to how regular your bowel movements are.


Just reading the title made me say NO $HIT.


Every agent and supervisor and above who has worked on or been associated with that registry needs to be terminated and prosecuted. Period.


Ya think ???