The quote intended in the title is the last one in this post. Before that, however, I want to post this excerpt from The Right to Keep and Bear Arms: Report of the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the United States, published February 1982. Warning: The excerpt is long, but I urge you to slow down and read every word:
Enforcement of the 1968 (Omnibus Crime and Safe Streets) Act was delegated to the Department of the Treasury, which had been responsible for enforcing the earlier gun legislation. This responsibility was in turn given to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Internal Revenue Service. This division had traditionally devoted itself to the pursuit of illegal producers of alcohol; at the time of enactment of the Gun Control Act, only 8.3 percent of its arrests were for firearms violations. Following enactment of the Gun Control Act the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division was retitled the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division of the IRS. By July, 1972 it had nearly doubled in size and became a complete Treasury bureau under the name of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The mid-1970’s saw rapid increases in sugar prices, and these in turn drove the bulk of the “moonshiners” out of business. Over 15,000 illegal distilleries had been raided in 1956; but by 1976 this had fallen to a mere 609. The BATF thus began to devote the bulk of its efforts to the area of firearms law enforcement.
Complaint regarding the techniques used by the Bureau in an effort to generate firearms cases led to hearings before the Subcommittee on Treasury, Post Office, and General Appropriations of the Senate Appropriations Committee in July 1979 and April 1980, and before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Senate Judiciary Committee in October 1980. At these hearings evidence was received from various citizens who had been charged by BATF, from experts who had studied the BATF, and from officials of the Bureau itself.
Based upon these hearings, it is apparent that enforcement tactics made possible by current federal firearms laws are constitutionally, legally, and practically reprehensible. Although Congress adopted the Gun Control Act with the primary object of limiting access of felons and high-risk groups to firearms, the overbreadth of the law has led to neglect of precisely this area of enforcement. For example the Subcommittee on the Constitution received correspondence from two members of the Illinois Judiciary, dated in 1980, indicating that they had been totally unable to persuade BATF to accept cases against felons who were in possession of firearms including sawed-off shotguns. The Bureau’s own figures demonstrate that in recent years the percentage of its arrests devoted to felons in possession and persons knowingly selling to them have dropped from 14 percent down to 10 percent of their firearms cases. To be sure, genuine criminals are sometimes prosecuted under other sections of the law. Yet, subsequent to these hearings, BATF stated that 55 percent of its gun law prosecutions overall involve persons with no record of a felony conviction, and a third involve citizens with no prior police contact at all.
The Subcommittee received evidence that the BATF has primarily devoted its firearms enforcement efforts to the apprehension, upon technical malum prohibitum charges, of individuals who lack all criminal intent and knowledge. Agents anxious to generate an impressive arrest and gun confiscation quota have repeatedly enticed gun collectors into making a small number of sales — often as few as four — from their personal collections. Although each of the sales was completely legal under state and federal law, the agents then charged the collector with having “engaged in the business” of dealing in guns without the required license. Since existing law permits a felony conviction upon these charges even where the individual has no criminal knowledge or intent numerous collectors have been ruined by a felony record carrying a potential sentence of five years in federal prison. Even in cases where the collectors secured acquittal, or grand juries failed to indict, or prosecutors refused to file criminal charges, agents of the Bureau have generally confiscated the entire collection of the potential defendant upon the ground that he intended to use it in that violation of the law. In several cases, the agents have refused to return the collection even after acquittal by jury.
The defendant, under existing law is not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees, therefore, should he secure return of his collection, an individual who has already spent thousands of dollars establishing his innocence of the criminal charges is required to spend thousands more to civilly prove his innocence of the same acts, without hope of securing any redress. This of course, has given the enforcing agency enormous bargaining power in refusing to return confiscated firearms. Evidence received by the Subcommittee related the confiscation of a shotgun valued at $7,000. Even the Bureau’s own valuations indicate that the value of firearms confiscated by their agents is over twice the value which the Bureau has claimed is typical of “street guns” used in crime. In recent months, the average value has increased rather than decreased, indicating that the reforms announced by the Bureau have not in fact redirected their agents away from collector’s items and toward guns used in crime.
The Subcommittee on the Constitution has also obtained evidence of a variety of other misdirected conduct by agents and supervisors of the Bureau. In several cases, the Bureau has sought conviction for supposed technical violations based upon policies and interpretations of law which the Bureau had not published in the Federal Register, as required by 5 U.S.C. Sec 552. For instance, beginning in 1975, Bureau officials apparently reached a judgment that a dealer who sells to a legitimate purchaser may nonetheless be subject to prosecution or license revocation if he knows that that individual intends to transfer the firearm to a nonresident or other unqualified purchaser. This position was never published in the Federal Register and is indeed contrary to indications which Bureau officials had given Congress, that such sales were not in violation of existing law. Moreover, BATF had informed dealers that an adult purchaser could legally buy for a minor, barred by his age from purchasing a gun on his own. BATF made no effort to suggest that this was applicable only where the barrier was one of age. Rather than informing the dealers of this distinction, Bureau agents set out to produce mass arrests upon these “straw man” sale charges, sending out undercover agents to entice dealers into transfers of this type. The first major use of these charges, in South Carolina in 1975, led to 37 dealers being driven from business, many convicted on felony charges. When one of the judges informed Bureau officials that he felt dealers had not been fairly treated and given information of the policies they were expected to follow, and refused to permit further prosecutions until they were informed, Bureau officials were careful to inform only the dealers in that one state and even then complained in internal memoranda that this was interfering with the creation of the cases. When BATF was later requested to place a warning to dealers on the front of the Form 4473, which each dealer executes when a sale is made, it instead chose to place the warning in fine print upon the back of the form, thus further concealing it from the dealer’s sight.
The Constitution Subcommittee also received evidence that the Bureau has formulated a requirement, of which dealers were not informed that requires a dealer to keep official records of sales even from his private collection. BATF has gone farther than merely failing to publish this requirement. At one point, even as it was prosecuting a dealer on the charge (admitting that he had no criminal intent), the Director of the Bureau wrote Senator S. I. Hayakawa to indicate that there was no such legal requirement and it was completely lawful for a dealer to sell from his collection without recording it. Since that date, the Director of the Bureau has stated that that is not the Bureau’s position and that such sales are completely illegal; after making that statement, however, he was quoted in an interview for a magazine read primarily by licensed firearms dealers as stating that such sales were in fact legal and permitted by the Bureau. In these and similar areas, the Bureau has violated not only the dictates of common sense, but of 5 U.S.C. Sec 552, which was intended to prevent “secret lawmaking” by administrative bodies.
These practices, amply documented in hearings before this Subcommittee, leave little doubt that the Bureau has disregarded rights guaranteed by the constitution and laws of the United States.
It has trampled upon the second amendment by chilling exercise of the right to keep and bear arms by law-abiding citizens.
It has offended the fourth amendment by unreasonably searching and seizing private property.
It has ignored the Fifth Amendment by taking private property without just compensation and by entrapping honest citizens without regard for their right to due process of law.
The rebuttal presented to the Subcommittee by the Bureau was utterly unconvincing. Richard Davis, speaking on behalf of the Treasury Department, asserted vaguely that the Bureau’s priorities were aimed at prosecuting willful violators, particularly felons illegally in possession, and at confiscating only guns actually likely to be used in crime. He also asserted that the Bureau has recently made great strides toward achieving these priorities. No documentation was offered for either of these assertions. In hearings before BATF’s Appropriations Subcommittee, however, expert evidence was submitted establishing that approximately 75 percent of BATF gun prosecutions were aimed at ordinary citizens who had neither criminal intent nor knowledge, but were enticed by agents into unknowing technical violations. (In one case, in fact, the individual was being prosecuted for an act which the Bureau’s acting director had stated was perfectly lawful.) In those hearings, moreover, BATF conceded that in fact (1) only 9.8 percent of their firearm arrests were brought on felons in illicit possession charges; (2) the average value of guns seized was $116, whereas BATF had claimed that “crime guns” were priced at less than half that figure; (3) in the months following the announcement of their new “priorities”, the percentage of gun prosecutions aimed at felons had in fact fallen by a third, and the value of confiscated guns had risen. All this indicates that the Bureau’s vague claims, both of focus upon gun-using criminals and of recent reforms, are empty words.
Remember, that was an official publication of the United States Senate from 1982. I didn’t emphasize anything, but that is quite strong language from a group of sitting Senators. It was the hearings referred to in this report that prompted Representative John Dingell (D-MI) to say in 1991, on camera:
“If I were to select a jackbooted group of fascists who are perhaps as large a danger to American society as I could pick today, I would pick BATF – They are a shame and a disgrace to our country.”
And in 1995 in Congress:
The consequences of the behavior of the BATF in these kinds of cases is that they are not trusted. They are detested, and I have described them properly as jackbooted American fascists. They have shown no concern over the rights of ordinary citizens or their property. They intrude without the slightest regard or concern.
All of that was a lead-in to this, found at Extranos Alley:
Jackie Brown, one of the final witnesses at the Ruby Ridge hearings, spoke for many of us when she said “As one whose father fought in World War Two, who had relatives killed in every war this country has fought, it’s terrible to wake up one morning and realize I no longer trust this government. No-no notes in files and promotions and paid vacations are not justice.”
Happy Tax Day.