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U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., referred to the activities of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, in “Operation Fast and Furious” as “felony stupid.”
Others have suggested that the plan was intentionally designed and cleverly crafted to bolster statistics in support of stricter gun control laws. Whether the operation was just stupid or intentionally criminal, it was clearly bad behavior on the part of the ATF and Justice Department, and such bad behavior should not be rewarded.
Some members of Congress, Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in particular, want to reward ATF and DOJ’s criminal stupidity with increased funding and increased authority through tighter regulation of firearms dealers and lawful firearm purchasers. ATF has floated several regulatory proposals in recent months, most notably a regulatory change tightening restrictions on the import of “non-sporting” shotguns and a proposal to create a regulation requiring firearms dealers to report any purchaser who buys more than one semi-auto rifle greater than a .22 within a given week.
While the shotgun proposal has drifted off of the radar screen for the time being, the multiple-rifle reporting requirement was approved by the Obama administration last week. The U.S. House of Representatives immediately responded by passing an appropriations rider prohibiting any funds from being used to enact or enforce the new regulation.
Proponents of the regulation argue that it gives ATF an important tool to help detect straw buyers and traffickers and that it poses little inconvenience to lawful gun buyers.
Even if those arguments are accurate, however, that doesn’t make the regulations right or acceptable. The fact is that Congress has looked at long-gun reporting in the past and rejected the idea. For ATF and the Obama administration to now push forward, bypassing Congress, in order to enact this as a regulation, is clearly overreaching and probably illegal.
Such action would never be permitted in other areas. For instance, if Congress had passed a law setting auto mileage standards, but had specifically chosen to omit larger pickups from the standards, it would be outrageous for some bureaucracy to later enact regulation requiring the big trucks to meet those same standards. They do not have the authority. It is for Congress to decide how firearms sales are to be regulated, not unelected bureaucrats.
That impropriety aside, the regulation creates a de facto registration system, something Congress has expressly forbidden on numerous occasions, and it puts additional burdens – and liabilities – on the gun dealers.
ATF claims that the records will be destroyed after two years, but ATF and DOJ have long histories of trying to renege on such guarantees, even when they are spelled out in law.
While it is true that most average Joes do not often purchase multiple firearms within a week, it is not particularly uncommon, and doing so should not make a person a suspect, nor should it result in their personal information being stored in government systems. Also, if the regulation – which only applies to dealers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – does go into effect, it will be no time at all until ATF will be requesting expansion of the reporting requirement to include Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, because they will claim that traffickers are taking their business to those states to avoid the reporting requirement. This is same type of argument we’ve heard from gun-control advocates for decades.
As things stand right now, firearms dealers are compelled to self-regulate. Not doing so can cost them their livelihood and much more. If someone comes to a dealer and wishes to purchase several similar military-looking rifles without some reasonable explanation offered, the dealer will probably be a little suspicious and might refuse the sale in order to protect himself. If that person comes back to buy several more of the same style rifles a few days later, the dealer is in a difficult situation: He wants to honor and respect his customer’s rights, but if this customer is engaging in illegal activity, it can come back on the dealer and he can be treated as a co-conspirator – losing his license, his inventory, his life savings and his freedom based on someone else’s determination that he “should have known” that the purchase was improper, even though everything checked out as perfectly legal.
Most dealers will either refuse the business or voluntarily report such suspicious activity to ATF, or both. Such was the case during Operation Fast and Furious when dealers repeatedly expressed reservations about doing business with suspicious characters and ATF insisted that they go forward with sales. If a mandatory multi-sale reporting system is in place, dealers will have the protection of that system to relieve them of responsibility for questionable sales. As long as they fill out all of the proper paperwork, their actions would be more difficult to seriously question, and there will be little incentive to report suspicious activity directly.
Perhaps the most important reason to deny ATF’s long-gun registration regulation is, as stated earlier, that it is always a bad idea to reward bad behavior. ATF and DOJ (including the U.S. Attorney’s Office and possibly the FBI and DEA) behaved badly. They encouraged and forced sales of some 2,000 firearms to known Mexican gun traffickers, and then they turned their backs and allowed those guns to disappear into the black market and to crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S., including the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
They did this in violation of long-standing rules of operation and common sense as well as international law. They did not do this in response to weak U.S. gun laws or a need for multi-gun reporting. These straw buyers were already known and under surveillance. This was bad behavior any way you look at it, and it should not be rewarded with increased authority, increased responsibility and increased funding.
ATF, DOJ, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and any other agency involved in this fiasco needs to be slapped down, not rewarded.