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.
“In my opinion, the NFA and the agency that enforces it should both be scrapped.”
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 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.