Tag: ATF

Quiet Change Expands ATF Power to Seize Property

A quick glance at the Federal Register (Vol. 80, No. 37, p. 9987-88) today reveals that Attorney General Eric Holder, who earned cautious praise last month for a small reform to the federal equitable sharing program, has now delegated authority to the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to seize and “administratively forfeit” property involved in suspected drug offenses.  Holder temporarily delegated this authority to the ATF on a trial basis in 2013, and today made the delegation permanent while lauding the ATF for seizing more than $19.3 million from Americans during the trial period.

Historically, when the ATF uncovered contraband subject to forfeiture under drug statutes, it was required to either refer the property to the DEA for administrative forfeiture proceedings or to a U.S. Attorney in order to initiate a judicial forfeiture action.  Under today’s change, the ATF will now be authorized to seize property related to alleged drug offenses and initiate administrative forfeiture proceedings all on its own.

The DOJ claims this rule change doesn’t affect individual rights (and was thus exempt from the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act) and that the change is simply an effort to streamline the federal government’s forfeiture process.  Those who now stand more likely to have their property taken without even a criminal charge may beg to differ.

Further, the department claims that forcing the ATF to go through a judicial process in order to seize property requires too much time and money.  Whereas an “uncontested administrative forfeiture can be perfected in 60-90 days for minimal cost […] the costs associated with judicial forfeiture can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars and the judicial process generally can take anywhere from 6 months to years.”  In other words, affording judicial process to Americans suspected of engaging in criminal activity takes too long and costs too much. 

Removing Melson Will Not Fix the ATF

The controversy over the ATF’s ill-conceived scheme to “walk” guns across the border with Mexico finally resulted in the removal of one high-ranking official: Acting Director Kenneth Melson. The U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Todd Jones, will fill the position for now.

A quick review:  ATF supervisors ordered agents to facilitate firearm sales to known or suspected “straw buyers” that intended to move the guns across the border and give them to drug cartels. Gun dealers in the U.S. reported the suspicious transactions to the ATF, expecting to cooperate in apprehending the gunrunners. As it turns out, the suspect buyers had disqualifying conditions that should have shown up in federally mandated instant background checks…but didn’t. The firearms trafficked across the border predictably showed up at crime scenes, including those involved with the murder of a Border Patrol agent, an ICE agent, a Mexican military helicopter shoot-down, and other murders on both sides of the border.

If you’re a private citizen, this sort of thing gets you 30 years in prison. If you’re a whistleblower within ATF, you get terminated. If you’re a supervisor responsible for such a scheme, you get promoted reassigned to ATF headquarters.

This ATF scheme broke numerous firearm laws, possibly the Arms Export Control Act, and facilitated multiple murders. The end result this litany of crimes and persistent ATF and DOJ stonewalling congressional investigations cannot simply be Melson’s removal and replacement with a DOJ official who may also have been complicit in the gun-running scheme.

Meanwhile, the multiple long-gun sale reporting mandate that I wrote about last year, which imposes conditions on gun dealers in border states in violation of federal law, has been implemented by the ATF. This was almost certainly one of the goals of the “gun control for the sake of Mexico” push we’ve seen for over two years, even though the numbers of private arms in cartel hands are far lower than we’ve been told, ATF efforts notwithstanding. ATF headquarters is throwing a party to celebrate the latest round of illegal action.

Melson’s departure is certainly warranted, but we’re a few indictments and many terminations short of justice, in my mind.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good: Congressional investigators are in Arizona to gather information on the ATF’s ill-conceived “Gunwalker” operation that supplied Mexican drug cartels with weapons. As I wrote at National Review, street agents objected from the beginning, but were told in no uncertain terms to pipe down:

Agents raised warnings to their superiors about the quantity of sales and the rising violence across the border, but were told that the operation had been approved at ATF headquarters. They were also told that if they didn’t like it, they were welcome to seek employment at the Maricopa County jail as detention officers making $30,000 a year.

I’d like to think that investigators will find that managerial incompetence was the culprit and not intentional facilitation of cross-border violence in order to hype gun control for the sake of Mexico. We’ll see.

The Bad: Philadelphia TSA screener Thomas Gordon has been arrested on child pornography charges.

The Ugly: Unions worked (for unrelated reasons) to keep said TSA screener in his job a few months before his arrest.

Thanks to AFGE’s legal assistance, a TSO at Philadelphia International Airport will remain employed at TSA after being proposed for removal. TSO Thomas Gordon had difficulty maintaining his work schedule because he had to take care of a family member…

“It means a great deal to me to know that my union — AFGE — has my back in situations like this,” Gordon said.

Now that the TSA screener workforce has voted to unionize, the only question is which union will represent them. Expect a stout union defense against any allegations of TSA excesses in patting down children or attractive women. If a union doesn’t defend the bad apples, it isn’t doing its job. Just ask the families of Sal Culosi and Erik Scott.

ATF: Laws are for the Little People

That’s the only message I can take away from the ATF proposal to require Federal Firearm License (FFL) holders to report the sale of two or more semiautomatic rifles that accept detachable magazines in states along the border with Mexico. In other words, this is gun control for the sake of Mexico.

Thing is, the proposal breaks the law. The ATF doesn’t have the authority to do this.

As David Hardy notes at Of Arms & the Law:

There are several violations of the Gun Control Act, as amended by the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act. First, 18 USC §926(b) provides “The Attorney General shall give not less than ninety days public notice, and shall afford interested parties opportunity for hearing, before prescribing such rules and regulations.” This is stricter than the Admin Procedure Act’s general provision for a “reasonable” comment period, and it has no emergency exceptions. ATFE is only giving 30 days’ notice.

Second, the FOPA amendments were intended to cut off future requirements of direct reporting – I say future because the existing regs (including reporting of multiple handgun sales were grandfathered in, but limited to those specific requirements. Thus far and no farther.

The ATF’s action provokes a court contest over the limits of the agency’s powers, which are clearly being exceeded. The litigation will provide another opportunity for Hardy’s excellent article about the legislative history of the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act to get cited in federal court.

All of this is unnecessary and lawless. There is a legitimate way for allowing the ATF to take this action: amend the law. Instead the Executive is ruling by regulatory fiat, damaging and degrading the rule of law. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going around these days.