About the Data
The Trace and USA TODAY partnered to investigate the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' inspections of federally licensed firearms dealers. Here's more information about what you'll find in this database. The full dataset is available for download.
The reports cover inspections conducted between July 2015 and June 2017 in which the ATF found gun stores in violation of federal regulations and penalized them. Inspections where no violations were found, and ones where inspectors identified violations but did not issue any penalty, are not included. Totals and percentages used throughout this interactive refer only to the collection of reports in the database, not to inspections or licensees overall.
The reports were provided in PDF format. Reporters used automated scripts and processing tools to extract text and structured data from the reports, and then manually reviewed the content of each report for accuracy. About 5 percent of the reports were duplicates, lacked information about the outcome of the inspection, or did not end in a penalty for the licensee, and were removed from the data.
The ATF redacted certain information from the reports, including violation counts, names of non-senior ATF employees, and personal contact information of dealer employees. Redactions are represented in the transcribed text of the reports with “redacted.”
The inspection reports use shorthand codes to identify the recommended outcome for gun stores found to be in violation of regulations. We simplified these codes to focus on only the most severe recommended penalty a licensee received. For example, if a dealer received a warning conference and a warning letter, the outcome is categorized as a warning conference. The codes also differentiate between a warning conference conducted by an ATF director of industry operations and one conducted by an area supervisor, but we coded both of these simply as a warning conference.
This ATF manual details the agency's guidelines for the penalties merited by various types of violations.
A report's final outcome comes from the review that has the final disposition box checked. On reports where no review is marked as the final disposition, we treated the final review's recommendation as the outcome.
In rare cases, we identified comment text that contradicted the recommendation in the accompanying shorthand code. In these cases, we prioritized the content of the comment as the source for the recommended penalty.
Reports that are categorized as “Revocation warranted” are ones in which the inspector found violations warranting revocation, but superiors who reviewed the report made the decision to give the licensee a lesser penalty instead, usually a warning conference. It does not include cases where ATF superiors determined that the initial recommendation of revocation was incorrect, or cases in which a dealer surrendered its license or went out of business before the revocation could take effect.
This database reflects only the contents of records provided to Brady by the ATF. Aggregate data on inspection outcomes published separately by the ATF for a similar time period (fiscal years 2016 and 2017) is inconsistent with the findings from these records. While the ATF produced 1,913 reports that resulted in warning letters, warning conferences, or revocations, the aggregate data indicates that 3,697 inspections resulted in these outcomes over a comparable two-year span. The distribution of outcomes is also inconsistent. In the reports reviewed, 93 percent of inspections ended in warning letters, four percent in warning conferences, and three percent in revocation. The ATF’s aggregate data indicates that 71 percent of inspections ended in warning letters, 27 percent in warning conferences, and two percent in revocation.
The ATF repeatedly declined to explain these discrepancies. Brady raised the issue separately in its ongoing lawsuit. The agency says it is investigating.
After extracting the violation data from the reports, we aggregated the citation codes to identify potential typos and errors. When we found violations where the citation description did not fit the citation code and the appropriate code was easy to discern from the description, we replaced the erroneous code with the correct one.
In cases where the number of violations listed on the first page of the inspection report does not match the number included in the report of violations, the number from the report of violations is used.
Licenses' expiration dates correspond to the ninth and tenth characters of the license number, which change each time the license is renewed. The digit in position 9 represents the final digit of the year of the expiration date. The letter in position 10 is an alphabetical representation of the month (A=Jan, B=Feb, C=Mar, D=Apr, E=May, F=Jun, G=Jul, H=Aug, J=Sep, K=Oct, L=Nov, and M=Dec). For example, a license last renewed in 2020 with a code of 3B has an expiration date of February 2023.
While the license numbers on the individual inspection reports in this database reflect the expiration date of the license at the time of inspection, the actual expiration date information listed relies on the FFL listing data published by the ATF. (At the time of publication, data was available through May 2021.) As a result, the expiration codes in the license numbers do not match the listed expiration dates. If a license number does not appear in the most recent published listings data, the license is listed as inactive on the report page.
More information about an FFL can be obtained by entering an active license number into the ATF's FFLeZCheck portal.
Interactive and static maps are provided by Mapbox, and the locations of cities and businesses are from the Mapbox Geocoding API. State boundary shapefiles were obtained from the United States Census Bureau. Citation definitions were adapted from ATF eRegulations and the Legal Information Institute.
The records in this database were gathered and analyzed by Champe Barton, Allegra Cullen, Brian Freskos, Daniel Nass, and Alain Stephens for The Trace, and Dan Keemahill, Nick Penzenstadler, and Steve Suo for USA TODAY.
Tips and Feedback
If you have information to share with The Trace and USA TODAY about ATF inspections of federal firearms licensees, or you have identified errors or inaccuracies in this database, please reach out to the team behind this project by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.