Felony or Felony Stupid: ATF shouldn’t be Rewarded

by Jeff Knox

Representative Darrel Issa (R-CA) referred to the activities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious as "felony stupid." Others have suggested that the plan was intentionally designed and cleverly crafted to bolster statistics in support of stricter gun control laws. Whether the operation was just stupid or intentionally criminal, it was clearly bad behavior on the part of ATF and Justice Department (DOJ) and such bad behavior should not be rewarded.

Some members of Congress, Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in particular, want to reward ATF and DOJ's criminal stupidity with increased funding and increased authority through tighter regulation of firearms dealers and lawful firearm purchasers. ATF has introduced – and the Administration has now approved – and "emergency" regulatory change requiring firearms dealers in border states to report any purchaser who buys more than one semi-auto rifle greater than a .22 within a given week. The US House of Representatives promptly, and properly, rejected the new regulations by passing an appropriations rider prohibiting any funds from being used to enact or enforce the plan.

Proponents of the regulation argue that it gives ATF an important tool to help detect straw buyers and traffickers and that it poses little inconvenience to lawful gun buyers. Many on our side disagree, but usefulness and inconvenience aside, the fact is that Congress has looked at long gun reporting in the past and rejected the idea. For ATF and the Obama administration to now push forward, bypassing Congress, in order to do something Congress has previously refused to do is clearly overreaching and probably illegal. If Congress had passed a law setting auto mileage standards, but had specifically chosen to omit larger pickups from those standards, it would be outrageous for some bureaucracy to later enact regulations including trucks. This case is no different except that it is questionable whether even Congress has the authority to regulate firearms sales. Unelected bureaucrats certainly don't.

The regulation also creates a de facto registration system, something Congress has expressly forbidden on numerous occasions, and it puts additional burdens – and liabilities – on the gun dealers. ATF claims that the records will be destroyed after two years, but ATF and DOJ have long histories of reneging on such guarantees, even when they are spelled out in law.

Purchase of multiple firearms within a week is not particularly uncommon and doing so should not make a person a suspect, nor should it result in their personal information being stored in government systems. Also, if the regulation does go into effect, it will be no time at all until ATF will be demanding that the reporting requirement be expanded beyond the border states. It will become the "multiple sales non-reporting loophole" and they will insist that all states need to follow the reporting requirements.

Firearms dealers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They want to honor and respect customers' rights, but ATF controls their licenses and the laws and regulations hold dealers responsible for things they "should have known." Dealers have to pass up business and/or alert ATF when they suspect possible criminal activity. Not doing so can have serious consequences. A New Mexico dealer is in jail today because the local police chief in the town of Columbus was allegedly trafficking guns to Mexico. The ATF says the dealer "should have known" so he is considered a co-conspirator. He could lose everything for selling guns to the Police Chief!

At the same time, gun owners can be very unforgiving of dealers who they perceive as "too cooperative" with ATF so dealers have to be careful about that too. Still, dealers don't want to be selling guns to criminals as demonstrated during Operation Fast and Furious when dealers repeatedly expressed reservations about doing business with suspicious characters and ATF insisted that they go forward with sales. Mandatory multi-sale reporting increases dealers’ paperwork load, but relieves them of some judgment calls. It might make things generally easier on dealers in the short term, but it would probably make things worse for them in the long run.

Perhaps the most important reason to deny ATF's long-gun registration regulation is, as stated earlier, that whether you're dealing with dogs, children, or bureaucrats, it is always a mistake to reward bad behavior. ATF and DOJ (including the US Attorney's Office and possibly the FBI and DEA) behaved badly. They encouraged and forced sales of some 2000 firearms (that we know of) to known Mexican gun traffickers and then they turned their backs and allowed those guns to disappear into the black market and to crime scenes in Mexico and the US, including the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. They did this in violation of long-standing rules of operation and common sense as well as international law. They did not do this in response to weak US gun laws or a need for multi-gun reporting. These straw buyers were already known and under surveillance. Politically motivated felony or just felony stupid, this was bad behaviorany way you look at it and it should not be rewarded with increased authority, increased responsibility, and increased funding.

ATF, DOJ, the US Attorney's Office, and any other agency involved in this fiasco need to be slapped down, not rewarded, and responsible individuals should be prosecuted.

Permission to reprint or post this article in its entirety is hereby granted provided this credit and link is included. Text is available at www.FirearmsCoalition.org.

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