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With a few notable and praiseworthy exceptions, such as CBS's Sharyl Atkinson, the mainstream news media have done their best first to ignore the Fast & Furious scandal, then minimized it, when ignoring it was impossible. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see another mainstream media organization devote considerable energy and I suspect money to investigating the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BAT-FE) enforcement tactics here in the United States.

First of all, let me emphasize that the laws that BATFE were trying to enforce are sensible: felons in possession of a firearm are a very real danger. We can argue whether non-violent felons should be in the same category as violent felons, but I think most gun owners would agree that a prohibition on convicted felons possessing a firearm is not intrinsically ridiculous.

I also recognize that law enforcement sometimes has to engage in some rather sneaky tactics to catch bad guys. But there should be limits to these techniques. The law prohibits entrapment--where police are the first to suggest the criminal activity.

This is part of how John Z. DeLorean successfully beat cocaine dealing charges in the 1980s: his defense team successfully persuaded the jury that government agents were the first to suggest this criminal way of saving DeLorean's struggling car company.' Even where the government's actions do not qualify as entrapment, as. taxpayers we expect the government to conform to certain standards of behavior.

In April of 2013, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published an article about a BATFE undercover operation that had sonic really ugly aspects to it.

BATFE set up an undercover storefront in the hopes of finding felons in possession of firearms.

BATFE set up an undercover storefront in the hopes of finding felons in possession of firearms. Along the way, they managed to lose a machine gun, severely damaged the building that they rented--and then stiffed the landlord, who had no way to recover damages after the undercover agents disappeared. But that is not the worst of what happened.

One of the people that the agents used (and "used" is the right word) was a man named Chauncey Wright, who had an IQ of 54--a pretty serious level of mental retardation. They found out that Wright had a felony conviction in 2007 for being a street level cocaine seller. (Would a person of even normal intelligence take a job selling $10 bags of cocaine on the street?)

They hired him to do cleanup around the parking lot, and then they asked Wright to find guns for the store to buy. Eventually, the undercover store managed to buy 145 guns obtained through Wright and many others--and Wright was one of the many people indicted for being felons in possession of firearms.

Now, at this point, you might be thinking, "What's the problem here? Wright was a convicted felon in possession." He was, but it turns out that many of the 145 guns that the undercover operation bought were purchased from gun stores immediately before being sold to BATFE. BATFE was paying roughly twice retail for these guns--and with that kind of financial incentive, all sorts of people bought guns to resell them to BATFE.

Technically, these were felons in possession, but if not for this absurd pricing, many of these purchases would never have happened. In the case of Wright, his mental retardation meant that he received probation on conviction, instead of being sent to prison.(2)

The response of BATFE was to argue that this was a one-time screwup; that they do not normally operate this way. When the Journal-Sentinel started digging into BATFE undercover operations around the country, they discovered that Milwaukee was not a one-time screwup--but part of a larger pattern of sometimes unlawful and often quite dubious practices. They discovered that around the country, BATFE was hiring mentally disabled people to try and bring them guns--and these were people that the agents involved knew were retarded, referring to some of them as "slow-headed."

This is a pretty despicable practice, but technically lawful. Some of the other actions that they took were not even lawful. "In Pensacola, the ATF hired a felon to run its pawnshop. The move widened the pool of potential targets, boosting arrest numbers. Even those trying to sell guns legally could be charged if they knowingly sold to a felon."

When this felon was later convicted of "pointing a loaded gun at someone outside a bar" BATFE stepped in and helped him out: he received six months in jail, instead of the many years in prison that would have been appropriate.

Did BATFE cause more crime than they reduced? That's a really good question.

In Wichita, a felon brought a shotgun to the undercover BATFE, storefront. This alone was a felony--a felon in possession--but why stop there? The agents suggested to the felon that he take the shotgun home, and saw the barrel down below legal length. They even helpfully provided instructions on how to do it!

Now they were able to prosecute this guy not just on felon in possession, but National Firearms Act violations as well. Let me emphasize: the agents suggested this. This cutting down of the shotgun barrel qualifies as entrapment by any standard.

As in Milwaukee, agents in other undercover operations offered "sky-high prices" for guns. In response, suspects not only arranged to buy guns at gun stores, but the "no questions asked" policy at their Atlanta storefront caused a local crime wave, as criminals went out and did burglaries to satisfy this artificial, government-created demand. One consequence was that BATFE agents bought guns that were stolen only a few hours earlier--including from police cars. Did BATFE cause more crime than they reduced? That's a really good question.

Just like happened in Milwaukee, BATFE agents in Portland damaged the building that they rented--and then vanished, leaving the landlord with no way to demand reimbursement. Oh yes, Portland's operation must have been really entertaining. It appears that BATFE provided alcohol to teens, had a female agent who "dressed provocatively" and "flirted with the boys" as part of an effort to get them to bring "drugs and weapons to the store to sell." (3) Providing alcohol to teens? I doubt that this was legal under Oregon law, but it was certainly reprehensible, and taking advantage of the average teen boy's raging hormones? Does this make you proud to be an American taxpayer?

Trying to keep guns out of the hands of felons is praiseworthy. Undercover storefronts to try and buy guns from those who may not lawfully possess them is certainly clever. But taking advantage of mentally retarded people is not okay. Paying twice retail price for guns as a way to encourage people who are probably not well-off to take advantage of these absurd prices sounds like BATFE may be creating crimes that would not otherwise have happened.

"Lead me not into temptation. I can find it myself." The fact that similar tactics appear across the country suggests that this sort of misbehavior enjoys institutional support with the agency. This needs to be fixed, and soon.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at The College of Western Idaho. His website is http://www.claytoncramer.corn.

1 Adam Bernstein, "Flashy Automaker John Z. De Lorean. 80, Dies," Washington Post, March 21, 2005, B05, h ttp:// s/A 52616-2005Mar20.html last mussed December 14, 2013.

2 John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge, "Botched ATF Sting in Milwaukee Ensnares Brain-Damaged Man," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 6. 2013, littp://www.jsonline.cotn/ watchdog/watchclogreports/botched-atf-sting-in- milwaukee-ensnares- braindamaged- manpk9d6or-201794871.1itml, last accessed December 14, 2013.

3 John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge, "ATE Uses Rogue Tactics in Storefront Stings Across Nation," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 7, 2013, watchtlog/watehdogreports/atf-uscs-rogue-tactics-in-storefront-stings-across-the-nation-b99146765z1-234916641.html. last accessed December 14, 2013.
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Author:Cramer Clayton E.
Publication:Shotgun News
Date:Feb 1, 2014
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