A family of four – Rick Reese, his wife Terri, and their two sons, Ryin, 24, and Remington, 19 – was arrested in Las Cruces, N.M., on August 30, 2011. They have been held in four separate county and federal detention facilities without bond ever since.
Their alleged crime is that, over the course of several months, they sold between 15 and 30 guns to people they “knew, or should have known” were gun traffickers for Mexican drug gangs.
Shortly after they were arrested in Las Cruces, dozens of police vehicles, including four armored personnel carriers and two helicopters, full of armed officers and agents from an alphabet soup of state and local law enforcement agencies, swarmed over the Reese’s home and businesses. The entire firearm and ammunition inventory was taken from Rick Reese’s store, as well as his entire personal collection of firearms and all cash and valuables from his home safe. Even the 30 to 40 empty gun safes that were on display at the store were seized.
U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales indicated that he is going to seek asset forfeiture of the Reese’s home and 25-acre property (including the shooting range on the property that he leased to various law enforcement agencies), all of the cash and valuables seized, their vehicles and a monetary judgment of at least $36,000 of whatever assets might be left.
In a prepared statement to the press, U.S. Attorney Gonzales stated, “This case serves to put firearms dealers on notice that they will be held accountable for any failure to comply with federal firearms laws.”
That’s fine. All gun dealers, particularly dealers in southern border states, are well aware of heightened scrutiny and enforcement of gun laws for the past several years. But it is almost inconceivable that any dealer, particularly a successful and prosperous one like Rick Reese, would jeopardize his life and livelihood for the sake of a few extra dollars.
What’s not fine is the heavy-handed treatment of the Reese family, the judge’s refusal to establish bond for them and something else that U.S. Attorney Gonzales said: “Those who sell firearms knowing that they will be illegally smuggled into Mexico to arm Mexican cartels share responsibility for the violence that has been devastating Mexico.”
While the Reese family sits in their various jail cells accused of “should have known,” the leadership of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, in cooperation with the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney for Arizona, twisted dealers’ arms to get them to sell over 2,000 guns to people that they knew were trafficking the guns to Mexican drug gangs. They did this with every intention of allowing the unmonitored guns to reach the bad guys and only tracked them by the crime scenes where they inevitably appeared. This program was only stopped when two of those guns turned up at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
So, with those facts known, when are those responsible for dumping 2,000+ guns into the criminal market going to be arrested and held accountable for their contributions to “the violence that has been devastating Mexico?”
Something else to consider is that someone actively engaging in illegal straw purchases of multiple guns is typically sentenced to less than one year in prison and is generally not even prosecuted unless they’ve made such illegal purchases of at least a dozen guns and at least one of them has shown up at the scene of a serious crime.
With that being the case, why has the Reese family, all of whom have spotless records in their business and their personal lives, been held without bail for over three months and had virtually everything they own seized by government agents?
Rick Reese was planning to retire at the end of the year. His son Ryin was in the process of opening a gun shop of his own in Las Cruces, and Rick was planning to help Ryin get started by letting him liquidate the inventory from Rick’s store.
In a dark twist to this already-dark case, Rick, who has been very outspoken and politically active, was planning to challenge the current sheriff for the office of Luna County sheriff next year, and his intention to do so was widely known. There have been some indications that this investigation might have started in the Luna County Sheriff’s office. If those rumors prove true, it raises all sorts of questions that need answers.
I don’t know the Reeses and really have no idea whether they knowingly broke the law. I do know that they had a reputation for being responsible citizens and that they have insisted that they are innocent and will not plea bargain.
I also know that they are facing well over $100,000 in just basic legal costs. If Rick and Terri and the boys are exonerated, they will walk free, but with at least $200,000 in legal bills and damaged, depreciated inventory – if they can recover it. Courts are notoriously loath to return guns under any circumstances and even less inclined to return ammunition.
Regardless of the Reese’s guilt or innocence, this case raises serious questions about the equity of our legal system, the showboat tactics of some federal law enforcement agencies, and the complexity of our nation’s gun laws. Crimes should be punished, but more importantly, justice should be served. That doesn’t seem to be happening in this case.