Federal Gun Control Enforcement Numbers Dip, But Biden ATF Maintains Status Quo

By: Mike Maharrey

Federal gun control enforcement numbers dipped in 2022, but the Biden administration still aggressively pursued enforcement, and kept things close to record levels.

In his first two years, the Biden administration took up right where Trump left off and generally maintained the record enforcement pace, with just a slight dropoff.

The number of cases recommended for prosecution fell by just under 1,000 cases — from 11,224 in 2021 to 10,138 in 2022. This was roughly the same number of cases recommended for prosecution in 2018. (See Footnote 1)

The number of firearms cases initiated by the ATF fell slightly, from 37,003 in 2021 to 34,436 in 2022.

But, as can be seen in the breakdown below, an aggressive level of federal gun control enforcement isn’t something limited to Joe Biden, or even just Democrats. Both parties have utterly failed to abide by the clear restrictions in the Second Amendment.

For example, during a public appearance in 2019, President Donald Trump proudly reminded us about his gun control credentials, bragging that his administration implemented new gun control and conducted more enforcement actions than anyone in history. He still holds that record today.

In fact, ATF enforcement increased in each of the first three years of Trump’s administration, and even with governments shutting down much of the country, enforcement numbers only fell modestly in 2020.

Cases Recommended for Prosecution

The 10,138 cases recommended for prosecution in 2022 were generally on par with the numbers over the last five years (except for the pandemic year dropoff). In other words, the Biden administration has generally maintained the record level of cases recommended for prosecution established by the Trump administration.

  • 2022 – 10,138
  • 2021 – 11,224
  • 2020 –  8,025
  • 2019 – 11,319
  • 2018 – 10,691
  • 2017 – 9,591
  • 2016 – 8,805
  • 2015 – 7,516
  • 2014 – 7,577

Indicted Cases

The ATF got indictments in 6,315 cases last year compared to 7,532 in 2021. The 2022 numbers are on par with Obama’s last year in office, but still nowhere close to the record levels from the Trump administration in 2019.

The ATF notes that “cases and defendants indicted, convicted, and sentenced are not subsets of cases and defendants recommended for prosecution in FY 2022. The snapshot presents actual judicial activity in the fiscal year regardless of the year the matter was recommended for prosecution. For example, “percentage indicted” should not be calculated based upon the presented data, as the case indicted may have been presented in a previous fiscal year.”

  • 2022 – 6,315
  • 2021 – 7,532
  • 2020 –  6,934
  • 2019 – 8,360
  • 2018 – 7,630
  • 2017 – 7,137
  • 2016 – 6,357
  • 2015 – 5,503
  • 2014 – 5,310

In all, the feds indicted 9,287 defendants in 2022.


The feds got convictions in 5,338 cases in 2022. This was just below Trump’s second year in office, and significantly lower than his record in 2019. In total, federal prosecutors convicted 7,293 defendants in cases brought by the ATF.

  • 2022 – 5,338
  • 2021 – 5,967
  • 2020 – 5,181
  • 2019 – 6,887
  • 2018 – 5,485
  • 2017 – 6,068
  • 2016 – 5,517
  • 2015 – 4,031
  • 2014 – 4,482

Case Types

The ATF also investigates arson, cases involving explosives, and alcohol and tobacco cases, but these make up a small percentage of the total. Last year, 90.9 percent of all cases were related to firearms. Under Trump, 92 percent of the cases investigated by the ATF involved firearms. It was slightly less under Obama – 90 percent.

ATF enforcement of federal gun laws under Trump in year one increased at roughly the same trajectory as it did during the last three years of Obama’s second term and it continued at roughly the same pace until the pandemic slowed things down. With the pandemic behind us, Biden has maintained the status quo – aggressive enforcement of unconstitutional federal gun laws.

The Lesson?

We can’t trust anybody in Washington D.C. to protect the 2nd Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms.

In fact, if the government followed the Constitution, the ATF wouldn’t exist. All federal gun control laws are unconstitutional. Under the Constitution, there is nothing for the ATF to enforce.

Even among the strongest supporters of “gun rights,” most hold the view that the Second Amendment allows for “reasonable” federal regulation of firearms. But as originally understood, the Second Amendment includes no such exceptions. Constitutionally speaking, the federal government should not regulate the manufacture or private ownership of firearms.

At all.

There wasn’t an asterisk after “shall not be infringed.” No terms and conditions apply.

The bottom line is we can’t trust Republicans or Democrats in Washington D.C. to uphold the Second Amendment.

How to Stop the ATF

You can’t expect a savior to waltz into the White House and end the ATF, but there is a way to slow the agency’s roll. States can hinder the ATF by refusing to cooperate with their enforcement efforts, and withholding personnel and resources.

The federal government relies heavily on state cooperation to implement and enforce almost all of its laws, regulations and acts – including gun control. By simply withdrawing this necessary cooperation, states and localities can nullify many federal actions in effect. As noted by the National Governors’ Association during the partial government shutdown of 2013, “states are partners with the federal government on most federal programs.”

Based on James Madison’s advice for states and individuals in Federalist #46, a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union” represents an extremely effective method to bring down federal gun control measures because most enforcement actions rely on help, support and leadership from state and local governments.

Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano agreed. In a televised discussion on the issue, he noted that a single state taking this step would make federal gun laws “nearly impossible” to enforce.

“Partnerships don’t work too well when half the team quits,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and director Michael Boldin said. “By withdrawing all resources and participation in federal gun control, states and even local governments can help bring these unconstitutional acts to their much-needed end.”

This is exactly what MissouriMontana and Arizona did.

No matter which party controls the federal apparatus, the federal gun control acts of 1934, 1968 and 1986, along with other various laws violating the Second Amendment, remain on the books. ATF enforcement statistics reveal little to no difference between “gun-grabbing” Democrats and Republican “friends of the Second Amendment.” In fact, over the last three administrations, Trump so far was the worst. It remains to be seen how enforcement numbers play out under the Biden administration, but it looks like he will carry forward Trump’s legacy of aggressive enforcement.

Instead of hoping the next president will do better, it’s time to confront this federal menace head-on with state and local action.

Footnote 1

All enforcement statistics were taken from the following ATF Fact Sheets