United States Senate


October 15, 1979

Honorable G. R. Dickerson 
Director, Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms
Department of the Treasury 15th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. 
Washington, D. C. 20220

Dear Director Dickerson:

As the former Chairman of the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, with oversight responsibilities for the Federal Gun Control Act, I held hearings to help assure that our federal gun control laws were being properly implemented and enforced. As the current Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution it is my responsibility to assure that all of our citizens are given fair and impartial treatment in the enforcement of these laws.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that a potentially serious problem exists with regard to the enforcement of Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968, the National Firearms Act (26 U.S.C. 5801-S872).

I have received copies of internal memoranda prepared by the Bureau regarding the lack of accuracy of the National Firearms Act registration system. These memoranda were obtained in the course of a civil forfeiture proceeding between the National Rifle Association and the government involving firearms confiscated from the NRA museum, and brought to my attention by the NRA.

As you will see, the memoranda states that the registration system was so inaccurate that those directly responsible for administering it were concerned that innocent persons might be convicted as a result of the deficiencies. As you know, in every case brought under the National Firearms Act the government introduces a certificate stating that a thorough search of the registration system files has not uncovered the firearm in question being registered to the defendant.

Since the credibility of the certification is only as valid as the registration system, any problems with the system would, as the memoranda recognize, compromise the certification. That would appear to place a major element of all prosecutions for possession under Title Il in jeopardy, and casts doubt upon whether reasonable doubt could ever be overcome as to whether the firearm had been registered.

This situation is of serious concern to me in that the memoranda appear to be materials that should have been released to any defendant being prosecuted under Title II, under the Brady v. Maryland doctrine. However, I understand you actively resisted such a release in the NRA case, to the point of entering a claim of executive privilege.

I would appreciate your advising me as to the accuracy of the Title II registration files at this time. In the event that the deficiencies cited in the 1975 memoranda did exist, I would like any information you may have as to whether any person has been prosecuted, or any property forfeited, as a result of an incorrect certification for the Title II files from 1975 to the present.

In addition, I would be interested in the Bureau's explanation for your attempt to claim "executive privilege" to prevent release of these memoranda.

Your attention and response to this request will surely be of benefit to my colleagues and I on the Judiciary Committee.


Birch Bayh