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And the conviction is not difficult for BATF to come up with. In spite of its public position that sales of “four to six” guns a year do not require a license, in court it has consistently been successful with an argument that conviction may be based on very few sales by a private individual, for no financial profit. The Bureau thus appears to interpret “dealing” in any way that seems likely to ensure the most arrests and then, on the opposite interpretation, the most convictions. It has uniformly failed to inform collectors or anyone else of its position, leaving its actual policy on dealing beyond the ascertainment of citizens interested in obeying the law.
Why this two-handed BATF campaign to prosecute those selling only a few firearms a year, while at the same time insisting that one must make a significant quantity of sales per year to qualify for a license? It not only serves to make people more vulnerable to charges of dealing without a license; it also cuts down on the workload of the Bureau in regulating licensees, leaving it free to pursue more impressive tasks.
Bureau officials have made no secret of their policies toward the small businessmen who make up the majority of the nation’s gun dealerships. Speaking to a police convention in Buffalo, New York, in 1979, former BATF director Rex Davis told the group that he planned to “tighten BATF’S regulation of licensed firearms dealers,” effectively reducing their number “from the present 159,000 to about 30,000. . . .The reduction will make their regulation more manageable for BATF’S outnumbered forces.” The implication is clear: since it is difficult for BATF to regulate these businesses as relentlessly as it wishes to, it has undertaken to drive large numbers of them out of business. Is that the intent of Congress?
Disregard for Property
Entrapment of the law-abiding, however, is only one appalling feature of BATF’S new campaign against gun owners. Its behavior during and after trial is curious for a supposedly law-enforcing agency of the government.
The Bureau confiscates many firearms. According to a BATF press release, total confiscations for the years 1976-78 numbered 25,936. The value of the nearly 9,000 firearms confiscated in 1978 is conservatively estimated at $1.05 million. And the odds of citizen getting his guns back are not good, even in the case of an acquittal. In a few reported cases, firearms have been seized but no arrest made. One gun collector provided documentation of a chilling scenario:
-BATF’S move against him, as documented from the prosecution’s files, began with a 14-month investigation commencing in early 1976.
-Firearms were seized-without arrest
or indictment-in March 1977.
-Nearly a year passed as the Bureau made offers to forgo prosecution if the collector would permit BATF to keep his weapons (apparently a common BATF position).
-On January 20, 1978, the collector sued for return of his collection.
-On February 1, 1978, less than two weeks after filing suit, the collector was indicted and was subsequently convicted.
Gun collections are often the product of years of devoted G effort, valued in tens of thousands of dollars. In virtually all cases, government confiscation represents a major loss to the collector. In a number of cases, there is clear evidence of what can only appear to be vindictiveness in the treatment of firearms in the Bureau’s custody, both at the time of arrest and later. Gus Cargyle is but one example. A collector in Corpus Christi, Texas, he had firearms valued at $55,000 confiscated by BATF agents. According to the local newspaper, the Corpus Christi Caller, agents deliberately dropped the guns on the concrete floor and stacked them outside “like cordwood.” Cargyle sucessfully sued for return of the weapons (no charges were ever filed) but discovered upon their return that they had been stored in a damp warehouse and allowed to rust during the Bureau’s custody.
Not only does BATF seize weapons without making any arrest; it also continues to withhold collections even after acquittal of the defendant. As a tax agency, BATF argues, it is entitled to retain seized weapons (and the vehicles from which they were confiscated, if applicable) to compensate the government for lost revenue. But in an implied dealership entrapment, the only lost revenue is the license fee–which in many cases would have been paid to the government if the government had allowed the implied dealer to obtain a license in the first place.
In fact, many of the firearms confiscated by the Bureau–about one-third, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act–are not kept because of any “lost revenue” but are appropriated, without compensation, “for official use” or for the “reference collection” at BATF national headquarters. One firearm so retained was an Ingram M10 submachine gun with silencer. The Ingram with silencer is familiar to moviegoers as the weapon used by the contract killer in Three Days of the Condor, and the Bureau’s listing of it as “desired for official use by this office” is surely ironic. Other weapons retained for official use include derringers, antiques, and deer-hunting rifles, weapons that would seem to be of little use to a law enforcement agency.