All posts by Jeff Knox

Take Away ATF’s Guns and Badges

Time to Take Away the Guns & Badges

By Jeff Knox

(September 8, 2016) It is the nature of bureaucracies to grow – in size, scope, and power. Various agencies compete for authority, staff, and budgets. They schmooze politicians and try to grab headlines in efforts to achieve these goals, and they are never ever satisfied with what they have.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF as they like to be called, is an excellent example of this phenomenon. In the early 1900’s, a small research branch within the Department of Internal Revenue became known as the Bureau of Prohibition, and was tasked with chasing bootleggers. It grew, was moved from Treasury to the Justice Department, and was, for a time, a division of the FBI.

To get the funding they needed to grow, the Bureau of Prohibition got remarkably good at promoting itself in the media. It became common for agents to make pre-raid phone calls to friendly reporters so they could be on-scene as major busts occurred, and agents like Eliot Ness became national heroes, erroneously credited with taking down Al Capone.

With the end of Prohibition, the Bureau was transferred back to Treasury, where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit, but their gun-slinging, gangster fighting reputation earned them regulatory authority over production and sale of machine guns when Congress passed the National Firearms Act in 1934, and even more firearms oversight with passage of the Federal Firearms Act in 1938, regulating gun dealers and manufacturers. This gave the ATU a big boost in scope and budget, but in spite of the sexy-seeming idea of dealing with machine guns, enforcement of the NFA and FFA turned out to be primarily an accounting job. With little excitement on the gun front, the ATU turned their attention to mostly small, moonshine operations that continued to produce un-taxed liquor throughout the Appellation mountains. As “revenooers,” the agency maintained their image as intrepid crime fighters by using aggressive and brutal tactics against the hard-bitten mountain men, resulting in violent clashes and lots of publicity. This provided plenty of good press opportunities and led to exaggerations in popular books and movies – along with the creation of NASCAR.

In subsequent years, ATF’s responsibilities regarding guns increased. By the late ’70s ATF was again making headlines, but not good ones. Having discovered that catching real criminals engaged in serious gun crimes was difficult, the agency was focusing their attention on technical violations of the nation’s gun laws, but they were still using their trademark aggressive tactics, resulting in people being killed and lives being destroyed over minor paperwork errors. In 1978 and ’79, Congress investigated some of these activities, chastising ATF and pulling money from their budget. This also led to passage of the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act in 1986.

In frustration, ATF turned its attention to “right-wing hate groups” and “anti-government militias,” using possible weapons violations as an excuse to wade into what was normally FBI territory. In 1992 they tried to force a reclusive separatist into infiltrating the Aryan Nation organization by accusing him of selling a pair of shotguns which ATF said had barrels that were a quarter-inch too short. This led directly to the deaths of a 14-year old boy and his mother, along with a U.S. Marshal on Ruby Ridge in rural Idaho.

Failing to learn their lesson, less than a year later, the ATF launched a raid on the facilities of a small religious group outside of Waco, Texas. The group believed Armageddon was going to start with the federal government trying to murder them, so when the ATF launched their military-style assault, shooting chained dogs out front and storming the buildings, something like Armageddon did break out. Four ATF agents were killed along with six church members, leading to a 51-day standoff that ended with the church going up in flames and at least 76 men, women, and children dying.

Two years later, a truck full of fertilizer and racing fuel was exploded in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Ruby Ridge and Waco were cited by the perpetrators as major motivation for their actions.

After that, the ATF laid low for a time. They attempted to restore their reputation in 2002 with a two-year, multi-million dollar, deep-cover investigation of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, but botched the operation so badly that no serious prosecutions resulted. This led to years of court battles between ATF and the undercover agent at the center of the operation, after his cover was blown, his house was burned down, and ATF tried to confiscate the royalties from a book he wrote about the investigation. It turned out to be an expensive mess that only resulted in another expensive mess – and additional embarrassment for the ATF.

In December 2010, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a gun battle near Naco, Arizona. It was later discovered that the gun used to kill him had been purchased at a Phoenix gun shop and allowed to be smuggled across the border – along with nearly 2000 others – by the Phoenix ATF office. The gun-walking operation known as Operation Fast and Furious was uncovered by citizen-journalist Mike Vanderbough in collaboration with writer David Codrea. WND was among the first to report on the scandal with this column published in early February, 2011.

While the scandal resulted in some shake-ups at ATF – and the first-ever contempt of Congress citation for a U.S. Attorney General, many questions have still not been answered, and no one has been held to account for the operation that facilitated Agent Terry’s death and the deaths of possibly hundreds of Mexicans.

ATF followed this up with storefront sting operations in several cities where they set up fake stores that paid criminals for stolen goods in hopes of attracting illegal guns. The results tended to be lots of low-level thieves selling lots of stolen electronics and jewelry to U.S. taxpayers. Indications are that the sting operations caused increases in petty crime, and little in the way of useful intelligence or prosecutable serious offenses. Those operations have now been harshly criticized in an Inspector General’s report from the Department of Justice.

What all of this leads to is the inescapable conclusion that this is not a reliable law enforcement agency, and it’s agents should not be allowed guns and badges. The vast majority of ATF’s responsibilities lie in monitoring paperwork and collecting taxes. Their criminal investigation resources should be turned over to the FBI, and the ATF should be reorganized as an agency of bean-counters and pencil-pushers.

Lacking Initiatives

Lacking Initiatives

by Jeff Knox

(September 1, 2016) As the Presidential Election has captured the national spotlight, there are many other matters to be aware of prior to November 8. Congressional elections are particularly critical this year, as a shift in the Senate is a real possibility. That would mean that Chuck Schumer would become Majority Leader. Harry Reid was a moderate compared to Schumer. If the House changes hands, we would see Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House once more. Everyone should remember how well that worked. And then there are state elections, including 5 ballot measures dealing with firearm laws in Washington, Colorado, California, Nevada, and Maine.

Washington:

In Washington State, where Mike Bloomberg and a clutch of billionaires spent over 10 million dollars to pass an initiative criminalizing private firearm transfers, the anti-rights crowd is again proving that they are never satisfied. They have come back this year to demand that authorities be given the ability to restrict legal access to firearms by people who the police or household family members feel might be a threat to themselves or others.

This is one of those dangerous measures that seems very reasonable on its surface, but is wholly unnecessary and holds great potential for abuse. The only way to prevent a person intent on doing harm from accessing the tools with which to do harm, is to put that person in a place where those tools are not available and they can be watched. You cannot bubble-wrap the world, but you can pad a cell and remove shoelaces. If a person is violent, threatening, mentally unstable, or otherwise a serious danger to themselves or others, they can be arrested, taken into protective custody, held in a mental facility for observation, or committed against their will indefinitely. If the person is not demonstrating behavior to justify those actions, they are not demonstrating behavior to justify revoking their right to arms. A person who is too dangerous to have a gun is too dangerous to be free on the streets.

Colorado:

In Colorado the initiative is calling for the criminalization of otherwise lawfully carried, concealed firearms on college campuses. Colorado does not ban legal firearm carry on campuses, and has never had a problem with someone legally carrying suddenly going berserk. At a time when more and more states are recognizing that a sign on a door does not make a space “gun-free,” but does often make a space self-defense-free, it is foolish to bypass the legislature to try and enact laws to disarm those who wish to protect themselves and might prevent or mitigate a tragedy.

California:

The California initiative is being pushed hard by Leiutenant Governor and wann’a-be governor, Gavin Newsom. Most of the provisions of the initiative were passed by the legislature last session, so it is largely redundant, but Newsome is using it as a vehicle to promote his candidacy for governor. His initiative has some stronger, more harmful language, and it would be much more difficult for the legislature to amend.

So far proponents of the initiative – led by Newsom and several multi-millionaire friends – have outspent opponents at a rate of 9 to 1. Opponents have virtually every mainstream law enforcement organization in the state lined up in opposition to the initiative though, noting that it would make criminals out of people who pose no threat, would not stop real criminals and terrorists from acquiring guns and ammunition, and would waste tens of millions of dollars that could be much better spent on resources and programs that actually do reduce crime and save lives.

A coalition of rights groups is working hard to educate voters about the real dangers and flaws in this initiative, and to rally GunVoters to help defeat it. Whether their grass roots efforts will be enough to counter the money and media blitz of the initiative proponents will all depend on educated voters turning out in November.

Nevada and Maine:

Nevada and Maine have been targeted by Bloomberg groups with similar legislation to what was pushed through Washington a couple of years ago. They call it “Universal Background Checks,” but what it is in reality is criminalization of private firearm transfers, and the laying of groundwork for a universal firearm registration system.

The Bloombergers are painting these fights as being local “gun violence prevention” activists taking on the evil NRA, when in fact it is the Bloombergers who have come in with their massive out-of-state resources to overwhelm local, pro-rights, grass roots groups. Unfortunately the NRA is playing into the Bloomer’s script by putting themselves at the front of the public debate, rather than staying in the background and letting the locals be the face of the fight. In Washington State, NRA is the only opposition group listed on the ballot. In Nevada, rather than providing financial, strategic, and logistical support to the coalition of grass roots groups that had formed to fight the initiative, NRA came in and formed a whole new group – bypassing their own state affiliate – hired a PR firm, and is “leading the charge.”
My Dad used to say that it’s amazing how much can be accomplished if you’re not worried about who gets the credit. Too bad that wisdom didn’t stick at NRA, because they are all about getting all of the credit. We’re glad they’re there, we just wish they would be smarter about it.

The critical thing in all of these states is that GunVoters show up in droves on November 8 – dragging their families, friends, and neighbors along with them. Organize, rally, educate, and VOTE! Be sure that everyone you know understands that every vote matters and that these initiatives are dangerous and being promoted with lies financed by Bloomberg’s billions. We don’t have to convince people that background checks and magazine restrictions are a bad idea, just that these proposals are the wrong way to get there.

Stop Bloomberg. Stop Newsom. Stop low-information voters from selling your rights.

The Real Second Amendment Threat

The Second Amendment Threat

By Jeff Knox

(August 10, 2016) It was interesting watching the media going nuts over Donald Trump’s recent comment about the Second Amendment. During an August 9 rally, Trump said:

Hillary wants to abolish – essentially abolish the Second Amendment. And by the way, if she gets to pick her judges…(shrugs shoulders, shakes head) Nothing you can do folks… (then as an aside,) Although, the Second Amendment people, maybe there is… I don’t know. But I tell you what, that will be a horrible day.”

Taking their cue from Clinton staffers and radical anti-rights extremist groups like Bloomberg’s Demanding Moms, the media painted Trump’s comment as a suggestion that gun rights supporters should take up arms against the government if Hillary is elected. Shannon Watts, the PR flak who heads up Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, sent out an outrageous email fundraiser claiming that Trump’s comment was a call to assassinate Hillary Clinton. In the email, titled “Ballots vs. Bullets,” Watts echoed the Clinton camp, declaring; “This is dangerous,” and claimed that, “the media quickly reported Americans’ widespread shock at the idea that Trump was encouraging the assassination of a U.S. president.” She even included footnotes to support this asinine assertion. The three articles in the footnote were:

  1. An editorial from rabid Trump-basher, Philip Bump at the Washington Post, who parsed the statement down to suggest that it was a threat against Clinton, but said nothing about “widespread shock,”

  2. An editorial report by Trump-basher Andrew Prokop at Vox, a “progressive” news service aimed at millennials, which mainly consisted of some speculation about what Trump might have meant and reprints of some comments made by other “progressive” pundits on Twitter.

  3. An article by Louis Nelson at Politico suggesting that Trump was in trouble for making the remarks, and supporting that contention by quoting a variety of Clinton and Democrat functionaries who were hyperventilating about it.

None of these suggested anything resembling “widespread shock” among Americans, just typical attempts to exploit an opening from an opponent. The suggestion that Trump was actually encouraging revolt or suggesting assassination is silly. He was talking about the damage Hillary Clinton could do to the country and the Constitution if she is elected, and one of the points was that if she were to make appointments to the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment would be virtually abolished – which is absolutely true.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently stated that she, like Hillary Clinton, believes the Court’s decision in DC v. Heller was “bad” and that a future Court would have the opportunity to revisit the issue when a case challenging a gun control law comes up. Since Heller was decided 5-4 with the now deceased Antonin Scalia leading the 5, it is no stretch to assume that a “progressive” replacement to fill Scalia’s empty seat at the bench would mean that the next case to arrive in the Court concerning gun laws would be decided 5-4 in the opposite direction. By ruling that only “intermediate scrutiny” or “rational basis” need be applied to such questions, the Court could effectively nullify Heller, and thus make the Second Amendment hollow.

Trump was offering a dire warning in an effort to rally GunVoters to his cause and against Clinton – in the upcoming election. His follow-up comment that perhaps “Second Amendment people” might not be helpless, was obviously a joke, but it was a joke with historical teeth.

The Second Amendment itself is a warning against overreaching government. Those who suggest that pointing out this fact is a threat and insurrection, are ignoring the other side of that coin. The threat of the Second Amendment is not that gun owners will resort to armed violence to get our way. Rather it is that the people can and should resist unjust force with force of our own.

This is right and just, and is in full harmony with the writings and beliefs of the founders and the legal scholars who followed them. Famed Supreme Court Justice and constitutional historian, Joseph Story, in his highly respected tome Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States phrased it like this:

The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.” (emphasis added)

That “strong moral check” is in fact a warning. The idea is that as long as the American people are armed, and thus have the ability to physically resist overreaching government, they will never have a need to physically resist the government, because the government would be foolish to try and oppress a citizenry that is well-armed.

If I take a new shooter to the range and caution them not to let the gun point at any part of their own body, and to keep their finger away from the trigger, would anyone suggest that I was threatening them?

Reminding those in power that We the People are potentially dangerous and should be handled with respect, is not a threat, it’s a courtesy.

Don’t tread on me.

Control Freaks

Control freaks just can’t help themselves

By Jeff Knox

(June 16, 2015) Both the Obama administration and Congress have been busy with firearm-related business in recent weeks, with the Department of Justice offering up a series of regulatory changes relating to firearms, and members of the U.S. House introducing legislation and appropriations riders aimed at rolling back some of the current restrictions and complications.

The issue that has caught the most attention within the firearms community is a proposal from the Department of State to “clarify” regulations regarding the “export” of “military technology.”  The proposal was obviously spurred by the 3D printing activists at Defense Distributed, who have sued the federal government for suppression of their First Amendment rights.

Defense Distributed is a company founded by libertarian-minded college student, Cody Wilson, who wanted to prove the futility of gun control laws by demonstrating the simplicity of firearm manufacture using 3D printer technology.  While firearms have previously been made using traditional machining processes, taking a chunk of metal and carving away everything that didn’t look like a gun, 3D printing reverses that process, spraying layer after layer of material (usually plastic) to build a three-dimensional shape. 

Continue reading Control Freaks

Alabama Senate Loss Isn’t a Game-Changer

By Jeff Knox

(December 14, 2017) The dominant media industry is touting the election of a Democrat in Alabama’s special election as a shocking blow to the Trump administration and to Donald Trump personally.  They suggest that this really raises questions about Republicans’ ability to hold onto their narrow Senate majority in 2018, and basically proves that everyone really hates Donald Trump, and as long as he’s president, Republicans can’t win.  That may be wishful thinking.

Whether you believed the allegations against Moore were credible or not, this race wasn’t about politics or policies or even guilt or innocence.  This election was about credibility, and the voters of Alabama thought the accusers were more credible than Moore was, and they voted accordingly.

You might have noticed that sexual harassment became a big deal in recent weeks, and any credible accusation of sexual harassment, abuse, or other sexual misconduct is being taken much more seriously that it was just a few years ago – or even just a few months ago.

Had the accusations come out earlier, before the primaries, or at least before the deadline for replacing a candidate’s name on the ballot, the results may have been dramatically different.  As it was, Moore only lost by about one percentage point, and that’s pretty incredible given the gravity of the accusations and Moore’s clumsy response to them.

An establishment Republican would have easily won that seat, but a hard-line, anti-establishment Republican like Moore, would have won in a landslide, had it not been for the accusations.  So the fact that Moore lost only reflects on Trump to the extent that it was probably a bad idea for him to dive back into the race.

The really surprising statistic out of this race was the turnout of black voters, who turned out for white Democrat Doug Jones in greater numbers than turned out for Barack Obama in either of his elections.  That’s a pretty shocking statistic. It can only be explained by assuming that Obama and the Democrats basically ignored the heavily Republican state, making no serious effort at registering and turning out black voters, since they knew there was no way they could swing the state, while Jones’s team had a monumental outreach program into the black community, bringing in popular African American politicians and celebrities to get people involved.

But what does all of this mean to the balance in the Senate now and going forward?  Not much really. Republicans had a two-vote majority, 52-48, and now they have a one-vote majority, 51-49.  There was some faint hope that Republicans might be able to capture a filibuster-breaking supermajority of 60 seats.  That’s still a possibility, but losing an assumed-safe seat doesn’t help. Neither did having two Republican senators declare that they were retiring.  Incumbents usually have a significant advantage, so an open seat is never as good a bet.

There are 33 seats up for election next November, plus a special election for Al Franken’s seat.  Of those 33 Senate seats, 26 seats are currently held by Democrats (including two Independents who caucus and vote with the Democrats.

Those are pretty good odds for the Republicans, but it gets better.  Of the eight Republican-held seats up for election, seven are in states won handily by Donald Trump, as are 10 of the 25 Democrat-held seats.  If Republicans retain all of their current seats, they would have to win all 10 of those red-state Democrat seats. That’s a pretty tall order and there’s not much chance Republicans can pull it off.

The Arizona seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, would normally be a safe Republican bet, but the Democrats have fallen in behind an attractive candidate, while Republicans are building up to a what could be a bruising primary battle.  Nevada’s Republican-held seat is also in doubt. Hillary Clinton won the state, and Senator Dean Heller waffled on the Republican healthcare bill, managing to anger both Democrats and Republicans back home.

On the Democrat side, only five or six seats are at serious risk.  Republicans had better win at least a couple of those as a cushion for their tenuous majority.  In the end, we will probably see Republicans retaining their majority, but falling well short of a supermajority.

For GunVoters all of this means we will probably get more of the same going forward, with pro-rights legislation dead on arrival in the Senate, as Minority Leader Schumer (D-NY) will be sure to filibuster anything that is offered.

The only light of hope in the Senate is that the Democrats chose the “nuclear option” doing away with the 60-vote majority rule on cabinet and lower court appointees a few years ago.  Republicans followed suit on Supreme Court nominees this year, and that means that as long as Republicans have at least a 1-vote majority, or even a 50/50 split, with Vice President Pence casting the deciding vote, Trump can continue to appoint judges who abide by the Constitution.

But if Democrats manage to get 51 seats in 2018, all progress in the courts will run right into a brick wall.  I can easily see Schumer and company blocking all judicial appointments – especially any Supreme court nomination.  The majority in the Senate has total control over confirmation of judges and justices. That’s why a Republican Senate majority is important to GunVoters.

Both parties will be spending heavily on Senate races next year, because that control over judicial appointments is so crucial.  GunVoters need to be out in force to keep the Senate in nominally gun-friendly hands. We might not be able to get the legislation we want, but if we can’t get the courts back into Constitution-friendly hands, gun-friendly legislation won’t matter.

Get involved, and VOTE.