Just because ATF had reasonable cause doesn’t mean that they needed a search warrant to conduct an administrative inspection of a gun dealer’s records. United States v. Melton, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 221663 (D. Neb. Dec. 28, 2018):
The agents who inspected Leadfoot on August 24, 2017 did not have a search warrant. Rather, they cite § 923(g)(1)(B)(ii)(I) as authority for inspecting Leadfoot without a warrant. Pursuant to § 923(g)(1)(B)(ii)(I), a GCA regulatory inspection without a warrant may be performed “not more than once during any 12-month period.”
Warrantless inspections conducted pursuant to § 923(g)(1)(B) do not violate the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S. 311, 92 S. Ct. 1593, 32 L. Ed. 2d 87 (1972) (holding the surprise and warrantless search of a gun dealer’s premises during business hours as part of the GCA’s inspection procedures does not violate the Fourth Amendment). As explained in Biswell, close scrutiny of firearms traffic is “undeniably of central importance to federal efforts to prevent violent crime and to assist the States in regulating the firearms traffic within their borders,” and “inspection is a crucial part of the regulatory scheme, since it assures that weapons are distributed through regular channels and in a traceable manner.” Biswell, 406 U.S. at 315-16. “[I]nspections for compliance with the Gun Control Act pose only limited threats to the dealer’s justifiable expectations of privacy. When a dealer chooses to engage in this pervasively regulated business and to accept a federal license, he does so with the knowledge that his business records, firearms, and ammunition will be subject to effective inspection.” Biswell, 406 U.S. at 316. And “if inspection [under the GCA] is to be effective and serve as a credible deterrent, unannounced, even frequent, inspections are essential. In this context, the prerequisite of a warrant could easily frustrate inspection; and if the necessary flexibility as to time, scope, and frequency is to be preserved, the protections afforded by a warrant would be negligible.” Biswell, 406 U.S. at 316.
As applied to the Leadfoot inspection, Defendant’s firearms business had not been inspected within the 12 months prior to August 24, 2017. Therefore, under Biswell, a warrantless inspection conducted under § 923(g)(1)(B)(ii)(I) did not violate Defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.