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BATFE harasses, intimidates gun buyers

Posted by Richard on August 29, 2005

Thanks to John Lott for calling attention to this story of outrageous behavior by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE; the story uses the agency’s older acronym, ATF) and three Virginia law enforcement agencies:

( – The federal agency that regulates U.S. gun dealers stands accused, along with at least three Virginia law enforcement agencies, of trying to shut down legal gun shows through alleged intimidation of gun buyers and sellers. The law enforcement organizations also allegedly broke the law by sharing gun buyers’ information with members of the public.

Apparently, at least 30 BATFE agents and hundreds of state, county, and city police descended upon a Richmond, VA, gun show. They positioned over 50 police vehicles around the entrance. By one exhibitor’s count, 72 uniformed and plainclothes police and agents were stationed around the vehicles at the entrance. Many others roamed the aisles of the show. According to the show organizer, this massive, intimidating police presence cut her attendance almost in half.

But the attempt to intimidate gun show attendees pales compared to what BATFE allegedly did to actual gun buyers:

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told Cybercast News Service that he has received numerous complaints alleging that as handgun buyers were waiting for their National Instant Check System (NICS) background investigations to be completed, ATF was secretly conducting the so-called "residency checks."

According to the complaints he received, Van Cleave said officers were dispatched to the homes of the prospective gun buyers to speak with family members, asking for example: "Gee, did you know your husband was going to a gun show today? Do you have his cell phone number? Did you know he was buying a gun?

"If people weren’t home they, in some cases, went to neighbors" to ask the same questions, Van Cleave said.

That’s just outrageous and intolerable. Not to mention illegal. I don’t know anything about the Virginia Citizens Defense League, but I hope they’ve got some good lawyers, and I hope they’re preparing FOIA requests and lawsuits on behalf of the buyers who were victimized.

These "residency checks" required significant advance planning, resource allocation, and coordination with local police. Someone needs to find out who authorized this operation, both in BATFE and in the local agencies that were involved. How high up was there knowledge and approval of such a despicable and illegal operation?

Heads need to roll.

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