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Column: The case for abolishing the ATF
From the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project
Editor’s note: This is an opinion column. I alone am responsible for the content.
by Lee Williams
No one makes a better case for abolishing the ATF than the ATF.
There has never been a federal agency with such little regard for the sanctity of human life, with such a history of failure, with such antiquated duties and responsibilities, with such a propensity to overreact, with such an addiction to good press, with such a willingness to bend over for any politician in charge, and — as we currently see playing out — with such little regard for the constitutional rights of American citizens.
I have known federal agents from other agencies — FBI, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and DEA to name a few — and all of them react the same way whenever the ATF comes up in conversation: “Yeah, well I’m not sure what’s up with those guys.”
Those guys’ leadership is and always has been a sick joke. ATF directors, who are presidential appointees, care more about keeping the White House happy than they do the Constitution, the safety of their agents or the lives of American citizens.
Joe Biden’s nominee for ATF director, presidential lapdog wannabe David Chipman, will only make things worse if he’s confirmed by the Senate. Chipman — a modern-day Chekist if there ever was one, cut from the same bolt of cloth as “Iron Felix” Dzerzhinsky himself — will transform the ATF into the NKVD for the 21st Century, complete with show trials, midnight renditions and a total disregard for human rights, as long as he gets regular belly rubs from whoever is actually running things behind the katy-barred doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
This toxic little imp of a man has already put the Senate and the entire world on notice that he intends to rip America’s most popular rifle from American hands, and given his history at Waco, if the hands are cold and dead it won’t bother him at all.
How did we get to where we’re at now? How did we reach a point in time where only a couple of Senators stand between us and a fully politicized and weaponized ATF, which is making ready to unleash hell upon American gun owners? For that, friends, you have to look at the agency’s history. Once you do, I’m sure you’ll agree that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should have been abolished decades ago.
A history of failure: Ruby Ridge
Regardless of what you think of Randy Weaver’s politics and personal beliefs, and quite frankly I don’t think much of them, the man was living in a cabin with his family in the middle of the Idaho wilderness near the Canadian border with no electricity or running water, and was not a threat to anyone.
Unfortunately, some of the folks living off the grid nearby were members of the Aryan Nations. Weaver and his wife Vicki attended several of their events, but when interviewed by the FBI in 1985, told the agents they were not members and merely attended for “social reasons” — anything to get out of their one-room cabin for an evening, I guess.
Regardless, the ATF saw Weaver as a potential confidential informant who could infiltrate a terrorist group, so they targeted the Special Forces combat veteran in the hopes he would flip and become a confidential informant once they had criminal charges to dangle over his head.
The ATF sent their longtime informant Kenneth Faderley to Weaver’s home. Faderley claimed he bought two sawed-off shotguns from Weaver, although Weaver claimed the barrels were cut down after Faderley purchased the guns, at Faderley’s request, which the courts view as entrapment.
When the ATF confronted Weaver, he refused to flip, so they filed criminal charges relating to the sale of the short-barreled shotguns. Weaver did not receive adequate notice of his court date, which he subsequently missed, so a federal arrest warrant was issued, the case was handed off to the U.S. Marshal’s and you know the rest.
Weaver’s wife Vicki and son Sammy were killed, along with Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan. Weaver was charged with 10 federal felonies, including first-degree murder for the death of Degan, but he was acquitted of all charges except for the original bail violation. Weaver was fined $10,000 and served 16 months in prison. He sued the federal government upon his release and later agreed to a settlement of $3.1 million.
ATF’s current website includes no mention of Ruby Ridge, Randy Weaver, Lon Horiuchi — the FBI sniper who shot and killed Vicki Weaver — or Deputy U.S. Marshal Degan, who was just doing his job trying to bail out the ATF. The siege and killings at Ruby Ridge jumpstarted the constitutional militia movement, so I understand why ATF now wants to downplay its role in the fiasco.
Domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh cited Ruby Ridge as one of the main reasons he bombed Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 — which killed 168 people including 19 children — as have other murderous lunatics who followed in his wake.
A history of failure: Waco
Unlike Ruby Ridge, the ATF does acknowledge Waco on its website.
According to the agency’s “Remembering Waco” page:
“ATF's investigation centered on Koresh and the Davidians being involved in the illegal manufacture and possession of machineguns and the illegal manufacture and possession of destructive devices, including bombs and grenades. ATF's investigation showed that the group acquired:
136 firearms, including assault rifles and handguns
700+ magazines for those firearms
200,000+ rounds of ammunition
110 upper and lower receivers for AR15/M16 rifles
Grenade-launcher attachments for AR15/M16 rifles
400+ empty M31 rifle grenades, along with black powder and other explosive chemicals”
The ATF points out that the inert rifle grenades “could be converted to live grenades.” It’s not known if any actually were, since all of the evidence was burnt to a crisp. However, none were ever fired in anger.
During the highly flawed initial assault, the ATF had to beg for a ceasefire so they could recover the bodies of their dead and wounded agents, during which Branch Davidian leader David Koresh released 24 members. Imagine that — a ceasefire — on American soil.
The ATF accepts no responsibility for what happened next during the final assault.
“A 51-day stand-off ended when the Davidian Compound erupted in fire(s) set by cult members, as law enforcement attempted to force them out by introducing tear gas into the building on April 19. The fire destroyed the compound and more than 70 residents were killed, many from gunshot wounds apparently inflicted by fellow cult members,” the ATF website states.
This is pure revisionist history — a new low for a federal agency — especially a law enforcement agency.
The incident at Waco claimed the lives of four ATF agents and more than 70 Branch Davidians. Since it happened on the heels of Ruby Ridge, officials finally began asking questions about ATF’s conduct and policies.
“A subsequent investigation by the Departments of Treasury and Justice regarding the actions of law enforcement agents during the siege determined that some tactics and decisions were poorly executed; and certain actions by ATF were criticized,” ATF’s website states. “However, the September 1993 U.S. Department of Treasury Administrative Review concluded: "...the agency is made up of dedicated, committed and experienced professionals, who have regularly demonstrated sound judgment and remarkable courage in enforcing the law. ATF has a history of success in conducting complex investigations and executing dangerous and challenging law enforcement missions. That fine tradition, together with the line agents' commitment to the truth and their courage and determination has enabled ATF to provide our country with a safer and more secure nation under law.”
This, friends, is classic misdirection. On one hand, ATF admits it screwed up — bigtime — but on the other hand the ATF is saying look at the bravery of our agents.”
To be clear, I am not now, nor would I ever, question the bravery of the agents who had boots on the ground. I question the idiots in charge, who were so desperate for good headlines — especially right after Ruby Ridge — that they lost all semblance of reason and pushed the Davidians until there was a bloodbath, which everyone including the President could see coming.
Weaver and Koresh had one thing in common. They both left their compounds regularly, usually unaccompanied — fair game for a traffic stop by local sheriff’s deputies, which wouldn’t have raised any red flags. If ATF wanted the men arrested so badly, all they had to do was ask the local sheriffs for assistance. The Marshal’s SOG team, FBI’s HRT and hundreds of other lawmen could have all stayed home, and scores of lives would have been saved. Unfortunately, the morons who were running this lethal circus didn’t think like that. They were more concerned about how they looked on the nightly news than they were the lives of the Branch Davidians or even their own agents. They cared more about headlines than human lives.
They still do.
A history of failure: Fast and Furious
There are (real) law enforcement agencies that won’t let drugs “walk” during a reverse-sting operation. Their rationale is that they don’t want drugs posing a threat to the public. I happen to agree with this philosophy. Law enforcement should never put something dangerous into the hands of criminals and then let it walk out the door.
However, from 2006-2011, the ATF let guns walk — a lot of guns — 2,000 guns, of which only 700 were ever recovered.
The goal of what became known as “Operation Fast and Furious” was to target Mexican drug cartels.
Working with FFLs who couldn’t refuse to cooperate, the ATF allowed illegal straw purchasers in Tucson and Phoenix to buy weapons and then ship them back across the border in the hopes they would lead ATF to the cartel’s shot-callers. To date, none of these high-level cartel leaders has been arrested.
Instead, the guns were used by hardcore criminals on both sides of the border.
The whole affair would be almost laughable, were it not for the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed by one of the firearms the ATF allowed to walk. In addition to Terry, more than 150 Mexican civilians were murdered by ATF’s guns. This is a national disgrace.
In a perfect world, everyone with knowledge of this operation should have seen the inside of a federal prison, much less been relieved of command, but once it became public and Congress got involved, the Obama/Biden Administration invoked executive privilege, at the behest of then-Attorney General Eric Holder, which tied up the proceedings until the Democrats took back control of the House and the entire matter was dropped. A heroic Border Patrol agent and 150 civilians have never received any justice.
For me, the most stunning part of this entire deadly debacle is the complete disregard ATF had for the potential victims of the weapons they let walk across the border — a complete lack of concern for the sanctity of human life.
After all, they weren’t providing guns to responsible gun owners. They were arming drug cartels with advanced weaponry. That no one in the agency’s upper echelons even considered or cared that the weapons they gave to the cartels might be used in crimes is simply stunning — revolting, actually. No one with any street sense — I mean real cops — would have allowed these guns to cross the border. I have no doubt that the victims’ race and nationality played a role in the ATF’s decision making, too. That’s the real tragedy. That alone is reason enough to disband the entire organization.
Agent Terry’s murder led to the creation of the Brian Terry Foundation, which honors his legacy by raising money “for the families of fallen U.S. Border Patrol agents and provides educational scholarships for students pursuing a career in law-enforcement.” I would ask that you please consider them as part of your charitable giving.
Nowadays, I’m worried about the increasing lethality of the Chinese and Russian militaries. I’m concerned about cyber-attacks on our infrastructure, a loss of my constitutional rights during the next COVID shutdown, and an economy that’s starting to look a lot like Jimmy Carter’s.
If a couple of country gentlemen want to cook up a batch of corn squeezins, or some entrepreneur in New York City offers untaxed cigarettes for less than $20 a pack, I don’t care. I prefer whiskey that’s been aged for more than a few hours, and I don’t ever plan to go to New York City again.
Still, even though most of us are completely unconcerned about untaxed liquor or contraband tobacco, they stupidly remain a major part of ATF’s regulatory responsibilities. Alcohol and tobacco enforcement, like most of ATF’s duties, could be handled easier by the states, or simply ignored. After all, today there are far more pressing concerns.
The same can be said for ATF’s firearms regulatory duties — especially its enforcement of the National Firearms Act. The NFA was enacted in 1934 in response to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. It’s about as relevant today as prohibition, bathtub gin and flappers.
In my opinion, the NFA and the agency that enforces it should both be scrapped. Just take a look at what’s regulated by the NFA: Machineguns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, suppressors, destructive devices and “any other weapons.” Most of them pose little risk to the public, and those that do are fiercely regulated by other federal laws.
I own two sound suppressors. One is on my lawn mower; the other is on my truck. If I want one for a firearm, it should be as easy to obtain as a replacement for my Toro’s. As to the short-barreled firearms, can anyone show me how a rifle with a barrel less than 16-inches or a shotgun with a barrel less than 18-inches is somehow more dangerous to the public than weapons with longer barrels? And machineguns are the real red herring on the NFA list. There are about 180,000 machineguns legally available for civilian ownership, and you don’t need all the fingers on one hand to count the number that have ever been used to commit a crime. Why, you ask? Because machineguns are incredibly expensive. Prices start at around $10,000, so anyone who can afford one can afford a quality gun safe.
As to the destructive devices ATF regulates through NFA — hand grenades, bombs, explosive missiles and poison gas weapons — there are more than enough federal laws and federal agencies to regulate their misuse.
The NFA’s “AOW” category regulates disguised weapons, such as pen guns, cane guns and umbrella guns. I will agree that these weapons need federal regulation the moment someone can show me that they’ve ever been used in a crime where the suspect didn’t escape on horseback.
The main reason NFA should be scrapped, along with the ATF, is that the Act and the agency that enforces it have become weaponized by the Biden/Harris administration.
The President and his elfish nominee now want our ARs and anything with a pistol brace to fall under NFA regulation. That, friends, cannot be allowed to happen. That is the real threat to our liberties, our gun culture and our way of life.
The real threat
There’s a word used to describe any new law that instantly turns millions of Americans into federal felons — tyranny — and that is exactly what Chipman wants to do.
If he’s confirmed, all of our ARs and pistol braces will end up regulated by the NFA. The little tyrant and Biden have already promised as much.
Sure, it’s easy to say you won’t comply, but keep in mind a violation of NFA can result in 10 years imprisonment, massive fines and loss of your civil rights. I’d prefer that gun owners never have to make this heady decision. The easiest way to accomplish this is to stop Chipman’s nomination cold, and then get rid of the ATF.
Last week, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene announced she will soon file a bill that would abolish the ATF. The Georgia Republican said the legislation would be titled “The Brian A. Terry Memorial Eliminate the ATF Act.” While I strongly support any effort to abolish the country’s most bloodthirsty federal agency, I doubt the bill will gain much traction in Nancy’s House. Pelosi is an old-school gun grabber, who I’m reasonably certain wrote the original NFA draft. At the very least, Rep. Greene’s bill will start a national conversation about the need to get rid of the ATF, and it will also serve as a reminder that we need to fight for our rights and our rifles right now.
Contact your Senators immediately. Call each of their field offices too and tell them you oppose Chipman’s nomination. While you’ve got their staffers on the phone, tell them you want the ATF abolished. If they ask why, tell them ATF has reached its maximum allowable body count. Tell them it’s time to get rid of the ATF before they do any more harm, and more innocent people lose their lives.
As always, thanks for your time.
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