ATFE activities in Virginia
Virginia Citizens Defense League has an interesting report on ATFE gunshow activities in their area. (On their page, click on VA-Alert Archive to get to it). If correct, this would raise major problems as to violation of the Privacy Act, 5 USC 552a (remedies for which include a minimum damage award plus attorneys' fees), not to mention the restrictions on use of data from background checks:
"The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE), who
seem to go out of their way to alienate gun owners with their
heavy-handedness, behaved in a shameful manner this last weekend at
the Showmasters' gun show in Richmond.
I had reports from members of police going to their houses while the
member was waiting for their approval to purchase a gun at the show!
The police asked the spouse and other family members questions about
the purchases and filled in a survey! "Did you know your husband was
going to a gun show today?" "Did you know your husband was going to
buy a gun today?" and many other such questions.
If no one was home at the gun purchaser's house, the police went to
the neighbors! "Did you know that your neighbor was buying a gun
today? How do you feel about him doing so?"
One member, who was carrying a personal gun to sell, was approached
by BATFE and taken to a car while they checked him out. The officer
said in front of Showmasters' management, "Did you know you need a
business license to sell a gun at this show? I have seen you at a
lot of shows - are you in the business of selling guns? I think you
are." That's called a fishing expedition and intimidation. In the
end they let the VCDL member go because their fish hooks came up
They had over 17 BATFE agents at that show. Richmond and Henrico had
a large number of officers running to the homes of anyone purchasing
a handgun to ask questions.
I guess Mayor Wilder is flush with cash all of a sudden. Too bad he
didn't use that money to put all those cops into the rougher
neighborhoods of Richmond, instead of harassing the decent citizens
who buy guns at a gun show.
And, if you are sitting down, the main BATFE agent at the show told
Showmasters' management that Richmond was going to be the model for
this kind of behavior across the nation!!!
BUT, THERE IS GOOD NEWS.
Steve Elliott, who heads up C&E Gun Shows and is affiliated with
Showmasters, along with Annette Gelles, who heads up Showmasters,
went to Washington with some lawyers to get this straightened out on
Monday. (BTW, Steve told me that he has spent in excess of $10,000
this year on legal fees fighting this kind of abuse.)
Steve and Annette were told by the BATFE in DC that BATFE would no
longer be sending officers to people's houses who were purchasing a
firearm and that what happened in Richmond should not have happened.
We will be watching carefully to see if BATFE keeps its word or not.
Report any such abuse immediately to VCDL, along with the officer's
name, badge number, and department."
UPDATE, from the same source:
For those who question how BATFE/police could pull this off in a
timely fashion: At the gun shows in Richmond, the State Police setup
a NICS check room where ALL the dealers drop off their NICS forms.
Later, the dealers check back to see if the NICS check has been
completed and the forms ready. All BATFE has to do is to grab the
forms as they are dropped off by the dealers, call in the contact
info and have an officer dispatched to the house. That officer
reports results of survey back to dispatcher, who in turn gives it to
BATFE. The form is then approved and released to the dealer the next
time he checks back. It is not unusual to have to wait an hour for
approval, so the average gun owner wouldn't really be alerted to
anything until he got home.
Where the disbelief seems to be coming from is that in many states,
the dealer calls in the NICS check from the show floor. Thus BATFE
would have to be in the booth with the dealer to get the NICS info
and make the dealer hold the form until the survey results were
returned. This would have also alerted dealers as to what was going
on. But that isn't how it's done at Richmond gun shows.
This underscores an observation I've made regarding ATFE and agencies in general. We think of a federal agency as having uniform behavior. It's actually made up of human beings, and varies just as they do. ATFE here in Tucson are decent guys, happy both to chase bad characters and to be helpful to good ones. Other cities can vary a LOT.
When I was representing US Fish and Wildlife Service's law enforcement division, it was much the same. Most of their offices were decent in their approach. They enforced the law, cut slack where it was appropriate, know the difference between bad characters and good ones.
The national office would, once a year (just as House appropriations started their cycle) push for a big, publicity grabbing operation, and sometimes that would get out of hand (They usually did catch some seriously bad characters, the problem was that minor cases, or good guys in technical violation, would get swept up in it, and be treated as if they were the bad guys, too).
Then there was one office that was perpetually creating trouble by being ham-fisted. (I remember one case where they revoked a guy's permit for paperwork violatons, then without notifying him of the revocation got a search warrant on the grounds that he had protected birds after his permit had been revoked, and went out and raided him the same day as the revocation).