Enemy at the Gate: New Years’ Resolutions For The ATF

So I sez to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “Look, you know how there are some things even your best friend won’t tell you? Well, I’ll tell you. The truth is, you’re a mess.

“You’re like the blubbery, weak-chinned, 450-pound guy in the ‘before’ part of the tabloid ad. You’re the ugly-gut, chain-smoking embarrassing uncle to the entire rest of the federal government.

“The FBI invites you to dinner once a year because it has to. The Pentagon turns corners to avoid you. Even the Transportation Security Agency—yes, even the Taking Shampoo Away people!—snicker as you lurch by.

“You’re pathetic.”

“But,” I went on as the ATF stood there not knowing whether to creep off for another Bud or smack me in the chops, “there’s hope. Remember, there’s always an ‘after’ guy in those ads. You know, the very same guy after he buys the diet drink or the set of 12 cassette tapes in three EZ payments. You know, the guy who now looks like an international currency trader, a Monaco millionaire, or at least a pimp on a good Saturday night?

“Yeah, that guy. The successful ‘after’ guy. The one who drives the Lamborghini or has the chauffeured Rolls. Mr. Corporate Hardbody who spends his days planning hostile takeovers while at the gym or plots the demise of his chief competitor while lying on a massage table.

“That guy. And remember, it’s the same guy. So even you, ATF, with the hairs sticking out of the warts on your jowls, can change your ways and become successful. You don’t even have to make three payments. I’ll give you the plan for free.”

ATF looked dubious.

“C’mon,” I said. “Lose 200 pounds of ugly fat. Get those nicotine stains off your teeth. Be a mensch. And all you need to get started on your new life is five New Year’s resolutions.”

I didn’t wait for him to ask.

“One,” sez I. “Tell yourself, ‘I resolve that I really, really will not ever again use civil asset forfeiture laws just to steal people’s stuff.'”

He looked sheepish. Just last summer, he raided KT Ordnance of Dillon, Montana (“Enemy At The Gate,” October 2006 S.W.A.T.). He walked off with inventory, order information, everything.

Evidence, supposedly. Then two months later, without ever even charging owner Richard Celata with a crime, he sent the poor guy a letter claiming that he—ATF himself!—now owned more than $11,000 of Celata’s stuff. If Celata wanted to argue about it, he could put up a $1,100 bond for the privilege of trying to prove that his property wasn’t acquired in or used for a crime!

“What crime?” Well, you see, ATF had no answer to that. Taking a guy to court is messy and you might actually lose. Hey, just take his stuff and call it yours … now that’s a breeze.

“That was skanky of you, you know?” I scolded.

He avoided my eyes. He knew darned well that honest people don’t do stuff like that.

“Yeah,” he said. “But boy, I had a good time. And the loot is good.”

I rolled my eyes. “Second,” I said, “You tell yourself, ‘I resolve not to classify an inert object as an illegal machine gun.’”

I know you’re not gonna believe this, you smart SWAT readers. But it’s true. ATF, that blubber-brained doofus, actually classifies non-firing firearm parts, and one time even classified a shoelace—I’m not kidding you, a shoelace—as a “machine gun.”

ATF got hot under the collar then. “The law says …” he protested. Spittle flew from his lips.

“Hold on. Just because some ignorant congressthings who didn’t know beans about guns or the English language wrote a stupid law doesn’t mean you have to make yourself as dumb as they were. Get real. The Second Amendment trumps some illegible, illegal mess of legalistic rambling. Anyhow, you’re a government agency. You could ask Congress to revise that law if you weren’t so interested in enforcing it in stupid ways.”

He looked sullen.

“Three,” I sez. “Tell yourself, ‘I resolve: If I declare that a lump of metal isn’t a machine gun and isn’t even a firearm, I will not turn around, declare that it is an ‘illegal machine gun’ and demand a list of everybody who bought one.’

“Skanky,” I scolded. “Skanky, skanky, skanky.” But yep, that was exactly what ATF did to Len Savage of Historic Arms, LLC. It approved—then nine months later unapproved—one of his upper receivers. Fortunately, Len hadn’t sold the part to anybody, so there were no ‘illegal’ customers. But poor Len was mightily confused and tried hard to get answers as to how a piece of metal could switch magically from inert metal to a killer spray-and-pray device all by itself. Defies the laws of physics, doesn’t it?

“Could it be,” I asked, pressing my advantage, “because Len Savage is of your most vocal opponents? Or could it be because you’re as incompetent as that guy in the ‘before’ picture and you, ATF, don’t have Clue One about what you’re doing?”

He wanted to be mad, you could tell. But he knew it was the truth. And he’d fallen so far that maybe he was starting to get ready to admit it.

“Four,” sez I, relentlessly (and I’m sorry if I’m sounding like a nag, really, but this guy needs to hear the truth from somebody), “tell yourself, ‘I resolve that when a sentence for a strictly technical ‘gun crime’ might put some harmless sap in prison for five or 15 or even 25 years, I’ll show some mercy and good sense and won’t go after him.'”

This is a big one with the ATF. In this case he’s also in cahoots with Congress, the DEA, prosecutors and the like, but I don’t think being in a gang gives him any excuse.

“Look,” sez ATF. “I know I’ve gotta change. Otherwise all this blubber I’ve been carrying around, and my lifetime of bad habits, are gonna kill me.”

“Not to mention some guy named Henry Bowman.”

“But you’re makin’ it too hard. I can’t keep all those resolutions.”

“Just one more,” I persisted. “But this is an easy one. Honest. Just tell yourself, ‘I resolve never again to use entrapment to turn innocent gun owners into criminals.'”

Yeah. For years he’s been doing it. Violent gangsters ply their trade and serial killers roam the streets, but ATF, that lazy slob, spends 75 or 80 percent of his cases trying to ding innocent people.

Just ask Danny Peterson, who practically had to drive ATF away from his table at a Las Vegas gun show. All that weekend in 2004, they kept trying to get him to do something illegal. He wouldn’t. So they busted him anyway and wrecked a year of his life until a jury sent ATF packing. Turns out ATF lied, committing up to four felonies trying to talk a man with no criminal record into becoming a felon.

“Shame on you. Shame, shame, shame.”

He didn’t look persuaded.

“Surely you can resolve to stop doing just this one little thing. Then just think,” I added brightly, “if you’re not spending so much effort trapping innocent people, you can actually go after exciting, dangerous, big-time criminals! Wouldn’t that be cool?”

He paled. His wart-hairs quivered. I could see I’d made the wrong argument. Quickly, I covered my tracks.

“C’mon,” sez I. “It’s not that hard to improve yourself. All you have to do is apply a little discipline.

“Whenever you’re considering an action, just ask yourself, ‘Does this violate any part of the Bill of Rights? Is it an illegal property seizure under the Fifth Amendment? Would the result be cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment? Does it infringe even a little, tiny bit on the Second Amendment?’

“If so, just say NO. Don’t do it. Simple, eh?”

Then I had a second thought. “Well, in your case, you should probably also ask yourself, ‘Is what I’m about to do completely bogus, scientifically or technically?’ That’s kinda important, too, in your case.

“But honest, ATF, even a 450-pound weakling like you can change. If you resolve hard enough, really resolve, to become constitutional and competent, you too will be a gorgeous hunk of an agency, fit to dine with, well, too darned good to dine with, any of the current crop of government agencies. Think of it, ATF. If you just resolve to be constitutional, you’ll be better than all the rest!”

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