A rare win: ATF fails to revoke New Jersey gun dealer’s federal firearm license

by Lee Williams

Ira Levin could not be happier. He can continue to operate his gun shop, Legend Firearms, which is located in Monroe, New Jersey. Levin has owned and operated the small gun shop since 2009, which is no small feat given the Garden State’s blatant antipathy toward guns and gun dealers.

Levin has sold more than 21,000 firearm and has been inspected dozens of times by both New Jersey State Police and ATF. They have never found a deficiency, at least not until Joe Biden declared war on gun dealers.

During an inspection in October 2022, an ATF Industry Operations Investigator, or IOI, found several deficiencies. A few customers wrote “USA” on the 4473 because they mistakenly thought the form asked for their country rather than their county. Levin’s staff did not catch the errors.

In addition, one of Levin’s part-time employees transferred firearms to three customers more than 30 days after they had signed the 4473. The ATF inspector said Levin’s employee should have had the customers fill out new 4473s before they took possession of the guns, because the form expires after 30 days. To be clear, all the customers passed background checks. None were prohibited persons.

Levin believed ATF would issue a warning or maybe a small fine for the clerical errors, until he received a letter stating that the ATF intended to revoke his federal firearm license. The revocation letter was signed by John Curtis, an industry operations director at ATF’s New York City Field Office.

Levin immediately tried to contest the revocation during a preliminary video call with Curtis and other ATF officials, which he hoped could save his license. They told him he could appeal their decision at an administrative hearing. Levin asked who would preside over the hearing and was told it would be Curtis.

“Curtis signed the revocation letter and now he is going to run the hearing. How is that right?” Levin told the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project last year. “Shouldn’t the person making the decision be objective?”

Levin was adamant that his revocation was part of a national trend orchestrated by the White House. Joe Biden first announced his zero-tolerance policy in June 2021. Part of his scheme included five criteria, which he claimed defined a rogue dealer: transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, failing to run a required background check, falsifying records, failing to respond to an ATF tracing request or refusing to allow ATF to conduct an inspection.

To be clear, Levin violated none of these rules. However, the ATF is routinely revoking licenses for even the most minor of errors — errors not on Biden’s five-point list.

The hearing

When Levin got on the Zoom call for his administrative hearing, he expected the worst, but he presented an intelligent and forceful defense to Curtis and the other ATF staffers on the call.

“Everyone who ever inspected me was in that room,” Levin said Thursday. “I asked Curtis if it ever occurred to him to ask them about me. They know me. He didn’t know me. I told him it wasn’t a rhetorical question – that he should ask them if I’m the type of guy whose license should be revoked.”

Levin told the agents his revocation was obviously a directive from the White House, which Curtis denied.

“Revocations have increased 500 percents because the president wants to get rid of ‘rogue’ FFLs. That’s why he’s weaponizing you against us,” Levin recalled saying during the hearing. “Your regulations say it was a ‘willful disregard of the law,’ but I’ve conducted thousands of transfers and you’ve found fault with three.”

Levin, a decorated Air Force veteran, told Curtis and the other ATF agents that he swore an oath to protect and defend this country.

“That’s still an oath I take seriously,” he told the agents. “If you took the same oath and take it seriously and now do this, you’re a different kind of person than I am.”

Weeks went by with no word from ATF. Levin was on a cruise with his wife when he got a call from his daughter, Bailey, who he hoped would someday take over his gun shop.

“She asked me if I wanted her to open the letter. I told her no, because I didn’t want to ruin the cruise. She said she’d open it, but only tell me what it said if it was good news,” Levin recalled. “She opened it and started screaming. She said, ‘They’re not taking your license. You won!’”

The letter included much legalese, but one line was very clear: “The ATF has determined there is no cause to revoke your license at this time.”

Levin estimates that revocation process cost him $4,000 in legal fees, as well as a massive amount of worry and angst. Some of his customers donated money to make sure he could mount an adequate defense.

Several weeks after he was exonerated, Levin heard that John Curtis – the industry operations director at ATF’s New York City Field Office who had signed his revocation paperwork and had overseen the administrative hearing – had been transferred to an ATF office in Cleveland, Ohio.

Said Levin: “I fully expected them to revoke my license even though I know what kind of business I run. I know I’m not a criminal. Luckily, I documented everything. At the end of the day, I know it’s rare to win.”