Monday, November 06, 2006

ATF vs Gun Dealers: who do you believe?

A Baltimore gun-dealer whom I will call "Sam" (I won't name the FFL holder, or the name or the store, because I'm not looking for links here) has lost his Federal Firearms License because of 'irregularities' discovered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE, more commonly known as ATF.

Sam took over the store in 1996 after the death of his father, who started the business in 1954.

This year, ATF revoked his FFL, charging that he had lost as many as 900 firearms and suggesting that this is due to his illegal traffic in firearms to people (criminals, juveniles) who are not legally permitted to buy them.

Sam (who is a NRA Board Member) contends that the number of 'missing' firarms is more on the order of 19 rather than 900, and the difference is due to the intransigence of the ATF in accepting his paperwork because of minor errors in filling out the necessary forms.

Here's the paper trail:

On July 23, 2006, the Washington Post published an article recounting the long battle between ATF and Sam. Much of the timeframe is taken from this article.

WaPo ( notoriously Liberal publication) describes the situation:

In 1997, he couldn't account for 45. In 2001, it was 133. In 2003, there were 422 firearms missing -- more than a quarter of his inventory -- including semiautomatic assault rifles, 12-gauge shotguns and Glock 9mm pistols, according to federal investigators.
The article continues to explain:
(Sam), a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors, did not dispute the substance of more than 900 violations of federal gun laws filed against his store. But he called them unintentional recordkeeping errors that posed no threat to public safety and said it is impossible for anyone to comply with all firearms regulations.
The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence provides its own interpretation on events:
Continuing decades of hostility to federal law enforcement, the NRA is now supporting the most sweeping rollback of gun laws in more than two decades. Pending federal legislation, H.R. 5092, would protect rogue dealers like NRA Board Member (Sam), whose Baltimore gun shop was cited for 900 violations of federal gun laws before ATF was able to revoke his shop's firearms license earlier this year. If H.R. 5092 is enacted into law, it would virtually eliminate ATF's ability to revoke the licenses of lawbreaking gun shops.
Politics rears its ugly head early in these matters, and the organization (formerly known as "Handgun Control, Inc." or HCI) has spent a lot of time following this investigation.

In support, they've got Quaker bloggers involved, and a group called "The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice".

The very title of that last organization makes me cringe. Groups crying for "peace & justice" are typically those who find being Soccer Moms insufficiently fulfilling.

I could be wrong about them. I don't think so ... I've read their webpage ... but it's possible. Their motto is, and I quoted (including the elipses): ...working toward the creation of a world free from violence and injustice ...

If that's true, why aren't they trying to talk Palestinians into laying down their suicide vests? How about convincing folks that stoning is not the answer to marital infidelity, or that prosecuting the victims of gang rape for 'riding in a car with a man who is not her husband' is a prima facia example of injustice? Never mind, I'm obviously being too insensitive to moral equivalence and cultural nuances.

Oh, I almost forgot GunGuys. This blog title is entirely (and perhaps disingenuously) misleading. These guys are NOT 'pro-gun', which would be suggested by the name. I would think that "gunguys" are two or more men who enjoy shooting guns. In the actual event, their posts are 100% anti-gun ( or 100% pro-gun-control), and focus entirely upon tragic results from gun ownership. In my limited browsing of their website, I can find NO positive testimonials to the benefit of firearms possession. They seem incapable of considering the benefits of sporting uses of firearms, or a positive view of the Second Amendment, or the beneficial use of a firearms for personal defense. I don't find a direct linkage to HCI sponsorship, but there is certainly nothing there to suggest that they are not in lockstep with the HCI party line.


According to HCI, the NRA is The Devil (perhaps even more than GWB) and H.R. 5092 ... a bill which restricts the powers of ATF to revoke FFL without proof of 'intent' to violate existing gun control laws ... is the work of The Devil.

In regards to Sam's situation, John R. Lott published an article in National Review on July 26 of this year. (Lott republished an 'editorial opinion' article two days later in the Washington Times, a notorious Conservative publication, which was essentially a clone, with hair.)

The thrust of the Lott opinion is that :

It is tough operating a gun shop with harassment from the federal government and unjustified media attacks. But the harassment could get a little better with legislation by Reps. Howard Coble and Bobby Scott which may fix some of the problems.
Lott goes on to explain that FFL licensees have declined 80% since 1992, largely due to pressure (harrassment?) from ATF and a growing anti-gun feeling in the country. Also, because of increased fees required by ATF, which has driven out many of the 'kitchen-table' dealers. Also, the unreliable availability of the "Instant Check" system has made firearms retail a shakey way to run a business, especially when the mandatory check system is unavailable for extended periods of time, with the result that sales are lost.

In regards to the tribulations experienced by this specific dealer, here's Lott's extended take in response to articles such as that published by WaPo and commentary by HCI:

Taking all these mistakes since (Sam) took over the store in 1996 and comparing them to his current inventory, not the 25,000 guns that he has sold over the last decade, borders on journalistic malpractice. It surely doesn't provide readers with an accurate understanding of what is happening.
So, what is the right number of missing guns? (Sam) claims it is 19. Nineteen out of 25,000 isn't perfect, but .076 percent is a lot less scary than 25 percent -- a difference of 329 fold. More importantly, the government has apparently never connected any of those guns to crimes committed. As (Sam) notes, "we have had the paperwork and successfully traced every gun whenever [the government] asked."
Is this the type of gun dealer who should lose his license? The BATFE thinks he is a prime candidate. Nine hundred rules violations over 10 years certainly sounds impressive -- that is until you realize that violations include writing "Balt." instead of "Baltimore" or that his government-approved ledger was apparently missing a column. Of course, the information the column was supposed to record was redundant anyway.
Part of the problem may simply be a government agency that manipulates numbers to make the problem seem a lot worse than it is so that it can fight for more resources. But Messrs. Coble and Scott's legislation would reduce the discretion currently available to the BATFE and allow licensees who face revocation to be heard before a neutral administrative judge.
Over the years we have had Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley's undercover sting operations with video but no audio of the conversations in the gun shops. This was perfect so that CBS' "60 Minutes" could twice show the tapes with the city's version of what was said. Their legal cases against the sellers were flops, but the press had lost interest by then.
The Coble-Scott legislation may not reverse the massive decline in licensed firearm dealers, but it is a start.
Note: The Coble-Scott legislation referred to here is H.R. 5092.

What is H.R. 5092?

HCI claims it would "... protect rogue dealers ..." like Sam.

Other sources such as this October 27, 2006 article in The Free Republic, claim that the bill has been presented to protect firearms purchasers ... not dealers ... from ATF harrassment.

The article refers to ATF "Sting" operations in Richmond, Va., in which local police agencies were co-opted by ATF to profile firearms purchasers at gun shows, and use the data available on ATF forms to go to the declared home address of the purchasers and not only verify residence, but also to talk to family members about the purchase. This process not only delayed the verification of eligibility to purchase a firearm, but harrassed the family and the

These reports are confirmed (and expanded on) by CNS News Reports dated September 1, 2005, and February 17, 2006.

According to CNS, ATF agents flooded the floor of gun shows and profiled those who they considered potential 'straw purchasers';

John White, a former law enforcement officer who is now an FFL operating under the business name "The Gunsmith," said female customers who approached his sales area at the Richmond shows were immediately targeted by the "undercover" officers.

"If a woman showed up at my table, she was surrounded by law enforcement," White recalled. "If the lady walked off and suddenly stopped, they would have bumped into each other. Their surveillance methods were pitiful.

"Every woman that makes a purchase, every woman who comes to my table to buy a gun was automatically [treated as] a straw purchaser," White said. (A "straw purchaser" is a person who can otherwise legally purchase a firearm, but who does so with the intent to illegally provide it to an ineligible buyer such as a convicted felon or an illegal alien. "Straw purchases" are illegal.)
The same CNS News article identified the author of H.R. 5092 more completely as "Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security".

This connection implies that the genesis of the House Bill was directly related to congressionally perceived excesses by ATF agents (and leadership) of their mandated powers.

Yet HCI chooses to interpret it as an power-play by NRA to protect a member of its Board of Directors who has been caught red-handed by the ATF making illegal sales.

The opinion here in Geekistan is ... there are so many lies being told, it's impossible to separate the bullion from the dross.

It seems apparent that ATF has been caught taking liberties with their powers; the activities in Richmond (and Pittsburgh, we see a trend here) are apersuasive argument that ATF is exceeding its mandate.

On the other hand, we really don't KNOW whether Sam has 'lost' 900 guns over the past ten years, or whether the true count is 19. Still too many, but an order of magnitude LESS egregious.

Sam's argument that "it's almost impossible" to comply with ATF reporting requirements? I reject it out of hand. It requires careful attention to detail, takes more time, costs money (as the CNS article points out), but it's do-able. Annoying? Sure. But that's the cost of doing business. If Sam really has taken over a store which his father ran for over 40 years, one must assume that Sam had ample opportunity to 'learn the business'. I have to ask how he managed to balance his books, when he couldn't even keep track of the product. Did it come as a complete surprise when he was audited, and couldn't account for his merchandise? You can't help but wonder how he managed to stay in business, even if he only lost '19' firearms in ten years. Did he write them off as "pilferage" and fail to notify the authorities?

This has been a difficult article to write. I want to blame governmental regulations and Red Tape with which is impossible to comply, but I don't really believe that.

There's more to the story than we have been told, that much is clear.

I do not WANT to believe that a large firearms retailer is guilty of allowing straw purchases, or is selling firearms under the counter to individuals who are not legally qualified to buy. However, the water in Baltimore is so murky that it's impossible to determine the character of the actual purchases.

Lott has done a great job of muddying the waters even farther. He may have done a Good Thing for FFL holders, or he may have only obfuscated the issue. Impossible to tell.

And H.R. 5092 may be necessary to curb the excesses of ATF.

H.R. 5092 may instead be found to curb the ability of ATF to identify and stop the excesses of unscrupilous firearms retailers. (You KNOW there are some out there!)

I'm left with only an unsatisfying confession that I can't find the truth of the story. I can't tell if Sam is an Oppressed Citizen, or a Slimy Bad Guy. I'm not casting aspersions here, I'm just saying that under the existing conditions, it's impossible to be objectively certain about anything!

If I had a Boo-Foo wrap-up here, it would talk about how HCI's publicity is making a already difficult situation even more impossible to resolve.

I can't say that, in all honesty.

For all I know, HCI and ATF is right, and all of the gun-rights supporters are wasting their time and their credibility on a dishonest businessman.

This last sentence is the reason why I refuse to identify "Sam". I have not compelling reason to paint "Sam" as dishonest, so the best I can do (if I am determined to write about his situation) is to protect his name and, as much as possible, protect his good name.

Why?

Because I have no convincing evidence that he has deliberately broken the law in the conduct of his business. HCI and ATF, the driving forces behind this 'investigation', may reliably be identified as organizations which have private agendas. Their actions bring them into disrepute under certain circumstances, and these circumstances are sufficiently obtuse that they must stand by their reputation of past acts to lend credence to their actions in this case.

They fail the test of confidence.

Those are the reported FACTS, and the suggested accusations as well.

Do with them as you will. I admit, I have no grounds for accusation against "Sam", and I regret that he finds himself in such difficult circumstances.

Whether he brought his troubles on himself, or whether he is entirely a victim ... that is for you to decide.

I offer NO opinion. I only offer the reportage as it is availble to me and to you.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Star Crossed

The last weekend of October, 2006, we attended a "Points Match" at the Dundee range.

I'm a bit late in posting this, but I've been busy. Mostly, I've been procrastinating. But never mind that.

The match was the usual Barsoom wet dream, with weird stages which we've come to expect and love. Because it was October, however, there were concerns about rain. Consequently, the stages were designed to be stable and quick even if the weather turned rainy.

We lucked out. No rain on match day, so the Misery Quotient was WAY low. In fact, we had a great time with cool days, little or no wind, and you never had to worry about getting the target pasters to stick on damp cardboard. We didn't even have to bag the cardboard targets, to protect them from the rain.

Barsoom had been surfing the internet (again!) in search of 'interesting' stage designs, and this time he found a doozy.

You set up a Texas Star, and 12 yards or so uprange of it you set up a cafeteria table. There are four IPSC targets downrange of the table, and four 10" plates just a little closer than the Texas Star.

There's a starting box uprange of the table, extending under the table downrange, and far enough uprange for a big man to lay prone.

There are two X's marked on the table, shoulder-length apart and approximately centered on the table.

Start position: standing in the box with palms on the X's.
Procedure: At the start signal, draw and engage all targets. IPSC targets must be engaged 'over the table', steel targets must be engaged 'under the table'. Seventeen (17) rounds, 85 points.

Note that the bottom of the cafeteria table is about 3' (or less) above the ground, so a kneeling position makes it very difficult to engage the Texas Star plates if they are at the top of the frame. Generally speaking, you want to engage Star plates from top to bottom, to keep it from spinning. This means you need to assume a low shooting position, either sitting or prone.

Just to make it completely clear, I've posted a lot of photos and videos on Jerry The Geeks Video Shooting Gallery.


It was immediately obvious to us that the key factor SHOULD be the amount of time required to assume the low shooting position, since we were required to start standing. As I filmed various competitors shooting the stage, I noticed that there was a wide variety of techniques used to change positions ... ranging from Airborne Norm, who simply tucked his heels under his butt and dropped, to Big Dawg who assumed a full prone position. Well, there was a trade-off involved between a quick assumption of the secondary shooting position and having a stable shooting position.

(Norm later admitted that he lost a little time on the stage because when he hit the ground the pain was so intense that he couldn't even think about shooting for a moment. I didn't notice any significant hesitation; you might, when you download the 3mb video.)

SWMBO attempted to use the edge of the table to carefully lower herself to a sitting position. Unfortunately, she lost an acrylic fingernail in the process, but it certainly didn't slow her down.

I had major problems quite unrelated to the change of position. The battery on my C-more was run down a lot more than had been apparent during the 'load-and-make-ready' sight check, and it degraded dramatically as I shot. I eventually resorted to almost point shooting techniques, which worked more as a matter of luck than of skill. Since I took almost twice as long as most competitors to complete the stage, my scores weren't very good. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned, and you may figure it out when you watch that video.

I've resisted the temptation to provide links to every individual video, because I want to encourage you to go to the video gallery and select the more interesting clips there.

However, I could NOT resist the temptation to create a video montage of the individual squad members moving to the low-port position. The diversity of techniques was too interesting. You can see a high-quality (6mb) copy of that video here, or you can just watch the low-quality / fast download version which I posted on You Tube.



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