This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, July 25, 2014:
News that gun prosecutions under Obama have dropped an astonishing 25 percent raised hopes that this most feared agency (outside of the IRS) was going away. A closer look reveals exactly the opposite.
News about the drop came from Syracuse University, which, at the request of the Washington Times, looked at the data from the Justice Department over the past 10 years and concluded that gun prosecutions referred by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) have not only dropped under Obama, but have dropped from 8,752 cases in 2004 to just 5,082 in 2013, an astonishing 42 percent. And this during the course of two anti-gun administrations.
The report made Obama look like a hypocrite (again). Following the Newtown massacre, the president said:
We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.
We have this irony. The Obama administration, which is asking for more in the way of gun regulations … is actually prosecuting less of the gun laws already on the books.
This appeared to be confirmed by a couple of ATF agents who, wishing to keep their jobs, remained anonymous. They told the Times:
The current climate within ATF is: Let’s take a step back and not go after too many hard-hitting violent crime cases that use informants or undercover agents. We can’t just go it alone anymore….
We need buy-in from everybody: local law enforcement [and] other agencies. Then, and only then, [will we be] able to sell it [and have] the U.S. attorney come on board.
A spokeswoman for the ATF chimed in that it was all due to budget cuts and shifting priorities:
ATF faces key resources challenges in staff attrition … [our] resources are limited and difficult choices must be made with regard to priorities….
Except for this inconvenient truth: the BATFE has as many employees today as it had back in 2004. Oops.
No, perhaps it was the bad press that has caused the agency to back off and slither back into its hole. Lord knows the press has been bad. The gun-walking scandal has put the phrase “Fast and Furious” permanently into the American vernacular, and the recent study by USA Today is about to cement the link between “stings” and the ATF permanently into the public mind.
After investing hundreds of man-hours researching court records and agency reports, journos at USA Today uncovered and wrote in June 2013 about a massive sting operation designed to entice unsuspecting street thugs into raiding hideouts where drugs were being stored. Of course, there were no drugs, just BATFE agents lying in wait to arrest them when they arrived on the scene.
Here’s how they worked:
The stings work like this: When agents identify someone they suspect is ripping off drug dealers, they send in an undercover operative posing as a disgruntled courier or security guard to pitch the idea of stealing a shipment from his bosses. The potential score is almost always more than five kilograms of cocaine – enough drugs to fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars on the street, or to trigger sentences of 10 years or more in prison.
When the target shows up ready to commit the robbery, he and anyone else he brings with him are arrested and charged with a raft of federal crimes, the most serious of which is conspiring to sell the non-existent cocaine.
The BATFE conducted more than 1,000 of these raids until some of the cases began showing up in courts where the judges were, to say the very least, unhappy about the scams. Some called them “disreputable,” “tawdry,” bordering on entrapment.
Naturally the ATF had a different view of the stings. Asked one former ATF supervisor:
Do you want police to solve crimes, or do you want them to go out and prevent crimes that haven’t occurred yet?
Another ATF source defended the practice:
Are we supposed to wait for him to commit a murder before we target him as a bad guy? Are we going to sit back and say, well, this guy doesn’t have a bad record? OK, so you know, throw him back out there, let him kill somebody, then when he gets a bad record, then we’re going to put him in jail?
Well, yes. This isn’t a science fiction world where police anticipate crimes. At least not yet.
The reason the BATFE has lost some interest in prosecuting criminals is because they have been busy elsewhere, prosecuting guns. They’re using an obscure section of the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) which allows the ATF to go after violators of arcane rules proscribing the making, shipping, buying, and selling of firearms. Those rules are traps for the unwary. Here’s just a small piece of the NFA’s Chapter 53:
No person shall make a firearm unless he has (a) filed with the Secretary a written application, in duplicate, to make and register the firearm on the form prescribed by the Secretary; (b) paid any tax payable on the making and such payment is evidenced by the proper stamp affixed to the original application form; (c) identified the firearm to be made in the application form in such manner as the Secretary may by regulations prescribe; (d) identified himself in the application form in such manner as the Secretary may by regulations prescribe, except that, if such person is an individual, the identification must include his fingerprints and his photograph; and (e) obtained the approval of the Secretary to make and register the firearm and the application form shows such approval. Applications shall be denied if the making or possession of the firearm would place the person making the firearm in violation of law.
Over the past five years, prosecutions under just this part of the NFA have increased by 243 percent, and another 129 percent so far in 2014.
The BATFE has been busy prosecuting guns under another little-known law, the Hobbs Act, signed into law in 1946. It prohibits the shipping of property, including firearms, in interstate commerce where there is even the least doubt of its legitimacy. In 2014, it is on track to be the third most prosecuted gun statute, up significantly just in the last five years.
Robert Sanders, a former ATF assistant director who isn’t afraid of losing his job for telling the truth, told the Times:
The agency’s philosophy has shifted to “guns are the problem and access to guns is the problem” rather than the criminal being the direct indicator of crime.
The BATFE is alive and well and operating under a different modus operandi. With this change in focus it’s being redefined into a more vicious version of itself.