Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What's Wrong With The ATF's New Reporting Requirement

In recent weeks the BATFE, currently under fire for itself arranging for guns to be smuggled to Mexico, has issued a new regulation requiring Federally licensed dealers to report sales of more than one semi-auto rifle. Of course the press has been quick to hail this as a perfectly reasonable step to stop the completely fictional "river of guns" from flowing to Mexico. So what is wrong with this requirement?

First, this regulation has nothing to do with stopping gun trafficking. The real motive is to change the focus from ATF's own criminal conduct in the "Fast and Furious" debacle. For those who do not know, in this "operation" over 2,500 guns were sold to known gun traffickers by the ORDER of ATF management. ATF agents were then directed to watch while these guns were smuggled over the boarder. Both gun dealers and line ATF agents protested this crazy policy. By issuing this requirement ATF hopes to shift the focus from their own misconduct to law abiding gun dealers.

Second, the reporting requirement is completely unnecessary - because dealers already report suspicious attempted transactions. Gun dealers scrupulously follow the law. A recent audit of all gun dealers in boarder state turned up absolutely no misconduct. Indeed, it is the dealers who enable ATF to catch gunrunners - as one agent testified, "Dealers are our friends, they make our cases." No matter how many or what kind of guns are involved, dealer are quick to call ATF is anything does not look right. In fact, dealer have a name for it: "Stall and Call". They stall the suspect and call the ATF - who before "Fast and Furious" would come out and investigate. If they attempted transaction was illegal, they would make an arrest. Of course, since the buyer would have filled out the purchase form (and lied on it), conviction was easy. By both requiring and announcing the parameters of the reporting requirements all they have done is create a lot of paperwork and tell the bad guys what not to do. Straw buyers will just buy smaller quanities over a longer period of time in order not to be reported - something the smart ones were already doing.

Third, this requirement is illegal. Proponents point to a section of US firearms law that allows ATF to require dealers to report anything in their records. However, this provision is intended to allow ATF to compile statistical data. Clearly, it was not intended to allow ATF to collect identifying information. If it was, ATF could just require every sales form to be reported and instantly create a national gun registry - something congress clearly did not intend to do.

In contrast to the cited provision, there is a completely applicable provision in the US firearms code. In 1986, congress decided to codify something ATF had been doing for quite a while. They wrote a reporting requirement for multiple handgun sales into the 1986 revision of federal gun law. At the same time, mindful that up to that point ATF had been requiring reporting multiple handgun sales administratively, they included a provision forbidding the routine reporting of any other transactions. That's right - what ATF is trying to do is EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN BY FEDERAL LAW. This is why the acting director of ATF, Kenneth Melson, has stated that an act of congress may be required in order to require this reporting.

This is the real reason why NRA has filed suit to stop the reporting. If ATF, an agency that has recently been involved in clearly criminal behavior, is allowed to write their own guns laws, the 2nd Amendment might as well not exist.

If you are a non-shooter, consider this: How would you feel about the DEA requiring all prescriptions for any drug that can be abused to be reported to them? No debate in congress, no respect for the laws that protect patient privacy - just an administrative ruling. How about requiring all bank deposits to be reported to the IRS, just because they say so? Would you be concerned about such things? I hope you would!

The first thing we need to do is abolish the ATF. This agency has gotten us into all the federal law enforcement debacles in the last 20 years; Waco, Ruby Ridge and now "Fast and Furious". Although other agencies became involved these all began with the ATF. This is strong evidence that ATF is a dysfunctional agency. This is not to say that there are not MANY good agents - there are many, the whistle blowers in "Fast and Furious" included - but the agency clearly has a toxic culture.

This is not to say that gun laws would not be enforced. Enforcement responsibility could and should be given to a functional agency, such as the FBI. Licensing of dealers, manufacturers and collectors could be handled by the Treasury Department. Agents could transfer from ATF on a case by case basis.

The Second thing we need to do is get to the bottom of the Fast and Furious, or Gunwalker scandal. If you don't know what that is, check out my blog on the subject. Clearly, multiple felonies have been committed on both side of the boarder. The Mexican government wants to prosecute ATF agents in Mexico. Thousands of guns have been funneled into criminal hands and will be used to kill people for years. This is the most serious scandal since Watergate - and we should not let ATF - or the Obama administration - change the subject.

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