You sometimes meet the most interesting people at the gun range. Recently, I initiated a conversation with a fellow who turned out to be a retired ATF agent. Naturally, I brought up the subject of the foul operation known as Fast and Furious. To my surprise, this fellow stated that an operation such as Fast and Furious is just one part of a 3-part ongoing procedure. Fast and Furious, according to this retired ATF agent, was developed to discredit firearms dealers. If guns purchased in the US “walked” across the southern border and wound up in the hands of drug cartel members, then ATF would have cause to put even more restraints on firearms retailers while at the same time giving the ignorant public a poisoned view of gun shops and gunsmiths.
Second part of ATF’s discrediting procedure is to put an undue strain on manufacturers and importers and in some cases, actually put them out of business. The way they perform this neat little trick is by coming up with rules and regulations that are completely arbitrary.
Third part in the procedure is to “examine” and “test” firearms to make sure they comply with the Gun Control Act of 68, the National Firearms Act and whatever other federal law may apply. This is aimed at the individual gun owner, who is then arrested and prosecuted based on what comes out of the ATF lab.
Project Gunrunner was an operation during the Bush administration to track guns from the US into Mexico. Tabs were kept on the guns and the operation was kept under close scrutiny. As soon as the Obama administration hit the White House and let it be known it was hostile to the Second Amendment, ATF developed Fast and Furious, to pump guns out of Phoenix into Mexico, and Wide Receiver, to do the same out of Tucson. During Obama’s first year in office, a figure was thrown out to the press to discredit gun dealers. It was said that over 90% of the firearms ending up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels came from sales in US gun shops. This figure was obviously false, but in order to bolster it and make it come true, ATF forged ahead with Fast and Furious and Wide Receiver. The bureau figured that pushing guns across the border into cartel hands would do irrevocable harm to US firearms retailers and give the bureau an excuse to develop even more Draconian anti-gun regulations. This would especially be true with a sympathetic anti-gun administration. It may have worked if not for the deaths of Customs Special Agent Jaime Zapata and Border Patrol Brian Agent Terry at the hands of ATF’s untraced weapons. As it turned out, ATF’s inability to track weapons they coerced firearms dealers to sell led to not only the deaths of two American law enforcement individuals, but hundreds of Mexican citizens as well.
Another friend , a retired DEA agent and Special Forces officer had this to say about ATF’s lone wolf tactics.
“My experiences with the ATF were that they went off and did what they wanted and then informed the US Attorney (USA) and other agencies when they felt like it. I remember one case where they arrested a man for a small amount of drugs and conspiracy to sell an illegal firearm and then went to the Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) for a complaint. I got a call from the AUSA because of the drugs and was told to ‘clean up their mess.’ ATF did not have a single written report or transcribed phone conversation. They said they only prepared reports when the case was ready to go to trial. If the case did not go to trial there were no reports. The AUSA ordered all reports and ATF gave him a synopsis of the case and nothing more. That case was not prosecuted. The USA’s SOP was that anytime an agency opened a criminal case they were to present it to an AUSA and notify any other agency if the case might cross into another jurisdiction, i.e., drugs involved in a gun case. ATF was continually at odds with the other federal agencies.”
The second part of ATF’s war on the Second Amendment has been much more effective than its operations such as Fast and Furious. It is effective because there is little in place to protect gunowners and the firearms industry from arbitrary rules and regulations. ATF makes up the rules as they see fit and will contradict itself at the drop of a hat. Just a few years ago, ATF attempted to ban detachable magazine fed semi-auto shotguns and pistol grip shotguns. Out of the blue, they attempted to label them as military weapons with no sporting purpose. A most ridiculous regulation from ATF concerns pest control devices or bird-bangers as they are known. All these devices merely emit sound. Mostly, bird-banger guns just blast a loud noise to scare birds off runways and crop fields. Out of nowhere, ATF has classified bird-buster rounds as commercial explosives practically on the same level as dynamite. A license is required to purchase bird-busting guns or canons and the noise-making rounds.
According to ATF, “Under Federal explosives laws, all persons who wish to manufacture, import, or distribute explosives, including EPCDs (Explosive Pest Control Devices), must acquire a Federal explosives license, and those who wish to receive explosives must acquire a Federal explosives permit. In addition to an ATF Form 5400.13, Application for Explosives License or Permit, and the application fee, applicants must submit a 2” x 2” photograph and a completed FD-258, Fingerprint Identification Card for each Responsible Person. Further, an ATF Form 5400.28, Employee Possessor Questionnaire, is required for each Employee Possessor. An EP is an individual who has actual or constructive possession of explosive materials during the course of his or her employment with the applicant’s business. Background checks are conducted for all RPs and EPs submitted with an application.”
The requirements to make, sell or own a noise maker are now as onerous or even more so than that required to own a Class 3 (Title II) weapon.
ATF in conjunction with the US Department of State makes up the rules for what is importable and what is not. Ordinarily, this would be little more than an inconvenience as to what would be available on the open market to the gun buyer. However, if you are an importer or a manufacturer and have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars or maybe even millions on manufacturing or buying arms to import, a spur of the moment ruling from ATF with the blessing of the State Department can put you out of business. A manufacturer may initially have an ATF ruling in its favor for producing a certain firearm and an importer may get the go ahead to import certain arms. But then, as arbitrary as ever, ATF may reverse its own ruling or change a definition and those arms being manufactured or imported are banned. If the commitment of the importer or manufacturer was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more, the loss would be devastating, more than likely leading to bankruptcy or insolvency. The old adage, “Get it in writing,” has no meaning with ATF. The bureau can write a reversal just as quick as it did the original approval. With its power to dream up manufacturing and importation criteria, ATF at this part can put some of the biggest names in the industry out of business with the help of an enabling administration.
A case in point is that of the Akins Accelerator. The Accelerator was invented by Floridian Bill Akins. The device made it possible for a semi-auto to fire quicker, simulating full auto. ATF ruled his device an illegal contraption and he was stuck with half a million dollars of inventory he couldn’t give away. Yet, other similar devices have been cleared by ATF as legal, requiring no special license. Historic Arms, a Georgia manufacturer, faced similar arbitrary moves by ATF. Len Savage, the owner, received ATF’s approval to convert legally licensed machineguns into belt-fed firearms. After coming up with $500,000 for the project, ATF reversed its decision. Savage spent a half a million dollars on tools and equipment that he could no longer use.
The third part of ATF’s anti-Second Amendment plan deals with the end consumer, the average gunowner. It can also affect the unsuspecting gunsmith as well. When does a firearm become a firearm? Ask 10 ATF employees and get 10 different answers. There is no standard written in stone (or anywhere else) that specifically outlines what needs to be done in order for a person to be classified as a “manufacturer” of firearms. The system is arbitrary. Does refinishing a firearm to make it more valuable constitute manufacturing? How many parts have to be used on a broken firearm before it becomes a manufacturing process? It’s vague and that’s the way ATF likes it. ATF does not need a lot of arrests or convictions for those who break its arbitrary rules. All it needs is one or two to make an example of them through intimidation using ignorant judges and juries to bolster its cases.
One recent and tragic example is the case of David Olofson, honest citizen and US Army veteran. Olofson was sentenced to 30 months in the slammer for transferring an unregistered machine gun. That’s ATF’s story. The truth is Olofson had a malfunctioning AR-15. He loaned this rifle to a friend and as he was shooting it on the range, the rifle skipped, firing a short burst full auto. A not uncommon result of worn parts! Someone at the range complained and the rifle was confiscated from Olofson’s friend. There is a ruling, Staples v. United States, that provides for a definition of “automatic.”
“…that once a trigger is depressed the weapon will automatically continue to fire until the trigger is released or the ammunition is exhausted.” This, of course, was not the case with Olofson’s misfiring rifle. The Staples v. United States definition was omitted from Olofson’s trial and the jury was instructed to adhere to ATF’s definition of automatic as any gun that fires more than one shot with the pull of the trigger is an automatic firearm or machine gun. This would apply to any gun that misfired due to poor manufacturing, over-lubing or worn out parts. In other words, any guno wner who had a malfunctioning firearm could be sent to jail by ATF using a standard that was so open ended as to potentially include any semi-auto in existence. It would also include a double barrel shotgun if both barrels are fired with a single depression of the trigger. What Olofson’s judge and jury were not allowed to hear was that ATF had once ordered a recall on rifles such as Olofson’s for the exact same reason they put him on trial. In the past, ATF had ruled guns such as Olofson’s did not constitute a machine gun. To make matters worse for Olofson’s case is the fact that ATF had his gun in its lab so they could have done anything they wanted with it in order to make their case. During the trial, ATF produced a tape of an ATF technician firing Olofson’s gun full auto for an extended period, intimating that the gun was made to fire that way and not based on malfunctioning parts. Olofson’s firearm expert was not allowed to examine the rifle.
ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch (FTB) has long been criticized by other law enforcement agencies as having shoddy testing procedures and poor testing standards. In spite of its problems, ATF refuses to accede to an oversight body to check its testing procedures. One of the methods ATF employs in its testing is to remove enough parts or rearrange them so as to make a firearm fire in an illegal fashion. In most cases, this procedure is so dangerous that the firearms tested are done so in front of protective barriers or by remote firing mechanisms. Yet, the FTB will take these results to court and an honest gun owner is convicted. Yet, neither the gun owner nor anyone else would have converted the gun the way ATF did due to the inherent danger of such conversions. A classic example of the silliness that comes out of the ATF is the letter sent to Brian Blakely back in 2004 that stated a shoestring used to produce full-auto fire on a firearm is in itself a machine gun! That being the case, every Wal-Mart, K-Mart, drug store and shoe store in the country would have to register as Title II/Class 3 dealers. However, someone with an inkling of smarts at ATF had them rescind the letter and hence the ruling.
The lack of scientific method and basic standards by the FTB, is not really a negative as far as the bureau is concerned because it can use the arbitrariness of FTB testing to send some persons to long prison terms for no other reason than retaliation or to make an example. The poor gun owner has no other means of redress than taking ATF to civil court. But in the long run, ATF uses millions of dollars in tax money to oppose a single gunowner who has limited means to support a case for long. Most gun owners know this and it’s just another form of intimidation by ATF to keep gunowners in line and limit the number of gun sellers whether they sell from a shop or sell, trade and swap at gun shows.
At one of the SHOT Shows years ago, an ATF official revealed to me in a low voice, “We never admit we’re wrong.” This is one of the reasons why ATF will continue with its 3-point program to suppress gun ownership in the US. It came as a shock to some, but very few in the firearms industry, when ATF promoted or moved to cozy lateral positions the perpetrators of the disasters now known as Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian Compound. Day by day it becomes more obvious that Fast and Furious is the most egregious public safety violation by a federal agency in this and the past century. Again, those involved, instead of being tried and incarcerated, have been given lateral positions with the bureau out of the public’s eye. In one case, ATF is making sure one of its supervisors is getting paid twice.
The Washington Post in mid-August broke the story of Deputy Assistant ATF Director William McMahon. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) questioned Acting ATF Director B. Todd Jones on how McMahon can be receiving two salaries. McMahon was the guy who was in charge of ATF’s western region during Fast and Furious that resulted in the deaths of Terry and Zapata. While McMahon was on paid leave from ATF, he was collecting a hefty salary from J.P. Morgan. In a letter from Grassley and Issa to Acting Director Jones provided to the Washington Post they wrote, “ATF has essentially facilitated McMahon’s early retirement and ability to double dip for nearly half a year by receiving two full-time paychecks, one from the taxpayer and one from the private sector.”
McMahon’s salary from ATF is six figures and he is receiving at least that amount from J.P. Morgan as its Executive Director of Global Security Investigations. In his testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, McMahon admitted, “We made mistakes, and for that I apologize.” All of which is little comfort to the families of Zapata and Terry and hundreds of Mexican citizens slaughtered through the actions of Fast and Furious and McMahon’s refusal to shut it down.