Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
A gun expert who testified against the government when David Olofson was on trial for loaning to an acquaintance a gun that misfired now says the government is punishing him for that testimony.
The allegation comes from Len Savage, who runs Historic Arms LLC and works with antique and historic weapons as well as weapons design and parts for gun makers.
His testimony in the Olofson case, in Berlin, Wis., harshly criticized the government’s weapons testing procedures. In that case, the defendant was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in jail for loaning a rifle that misfired, letting off three bullets at one time.
The government then classified it a machine gun, and convicted Olofson of “transferring” such a weapon. He surrendered to federal authorities just a few weeks ago to begin serving his term, prompting the Gun Owners of America to issue a warning about the owner’s liability should any semi-automatic weapon ever misfire.
“A gun that malfunctions is not a machine gun,” Larry Pratt, executive director of GOA, said. “What the [federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] has done in the Olofson case has set a precedent that could make any of the millions of Americans that own semi-automatic firearms suddenly the owner [of] an unregistered machine gun at the moment the gun malfunctions.”
When U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert imposed the sentence, a commentary in Guns Magazine said, “It didn’t matter the rifle in question had not been intentionally modified for select fire, or that it did not have an M16 bolt carrier … that it did not show any signs of machining or drilling, or that that model had even been recalled a few years back,” said
“It didn’t matter the government had repeatedly failed to replicate automatic fire until they replaced the ammunition with a softer primer type. It didn’t even matter that the prosecution admitted it was not important to prove the gun would do it again if the test were conducted today,” the magazine said. “What mattered was the government’s position that none of the above was relevant because ‘[T]here’s no indication it makes any difference under the statute. If you pull the trigger once and it fires more than one round, no matter what the cause it’s a machine gun.’
Now a decision by that agency could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.
He said he recently submitted to the federal agency a proposed part for an existing line of legal machine guns, a part that would convert the weapons to operate with ammunition that costs 1 or 2 cents per shell, instead of 25 cents or more.
Savage told WND he submitted the part to the BATFE, even though it technically was not a gun, and was stunned to get a response that not only was his repair part a gun, it was a machine gun and he had only hours to “register” it properly.
And all it took was some metal, a length of chain, some duct tape and some plastic wire ties for the agency to make his gun part operate in that fashion, he said he was told.
“The materials [BATFE] added converted the firearm submitted by Historic Arms, LLC into a machine gun; therefore, the materials constitute a machine gun receiver, a machine gun, or a conversion device,” Savage responded to John Spencer, chief of the agency’s Firearms Technology Branch, in a letter about the situation.
Reviewing the agency’s modifications to his gun part that allowed it to fire automatically, Savage agreed. Sure, he said, that’s what happens when you add the components of an automatic weapon to any part such as his.
“If the criteria FTB applied to the testing of our latest submission was applied to testing the many caliber conversion uppers that are sold at retail with no restrictions, such as the .22 long rifle MAC upper made by ‘Flemming,’ (1) all of them would fire in fully automatic mode until the ammunition supply was exhausted, (2) there would be no way for the shooter to stop fire,” he wrote.
Officials with the BATFE told WND they were investigating the claims, but could not respond immediately.
“The choice of FTB to install several versions of a ‘conversion device’ in order to induce full auto fire are clear and reliable evidence that they were contrived to deny my constitutional rights,” he wrote in a letter to the agency.
He said the issue is similar to that of the Olofson case. There, the government’s first test of the rifle showed it to be just that, a rifle. But the agents prosecuting the case weren’t satisfied, and demanded another test using a special ammunition, which did trigger a malfunction and an instance of multiple fire, he said.
In his case, he told WND the multiple modifications to his gun part clearly reveal the agency’s message that no one ever should testify against it.
“[The] enforcement officer … was assigned to a position of authority over me five months after testifying against him in US v. Olofson,” Savage wrote. “This appearance of impropriety is clear to anyone, the onus is on FTB at this point,” he said.
“The submitted firearm was not made from a machine gun, is not a machine gun, and is my property, that I want returned immediately,” he said.
“Mr. Olofson was nice enough to accommodate him,” Savage said. So the student, Robert Kiernicki, went to a range and fired about 120 rounds. “He went to put in another magazine and the rifle shot three times, then jammed.”
He said the rifle, which was subject to a manufacturer’s recall because of mechanical problems at one point, malfunctioned because of the way it was made.
Savage said once the government confiscated the gun, things got worse.
“They examined and test fired the rifle; then declared it to be ‘just a rifle,’” Savage said. “You would think it would all be resolved at this point, this was merely the beginning.”
He said the Special Agent in Charge, Jody Keeku, asked for a re-test and specified that the tests use “soft primered commercial ammunition.”
“FTB has no standardized testing procedures, in fact it has no written procedures at all for testing firearms,” Savage said. “They had no standard to stick to, and gleefully tried again. The results this time…’a machinegun.’ ATF with a self-admitted 50 percent error rate pursued an indictment and Mr. Olofson was charged with ‘Unlawful transfer of a machinegun.’. Not possession, not even Robert Kiernicki was charged with possession (who actually possessed the rifle), though the ATF paid Mr. Kiernicki ‘an undisclosed amount of money’ to testify against Mr. Olofson at trial,” Savage said.