By Jeff Knox
Buckeye, AZ –-(Ammoland.com)- As I was graduating from high school in Prescott, Arizona, My father, Neal Knox, was in Washington, DC making war plans as the head of NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action.
By the following year, Dad had publicly declared war on the BATF and the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968. From Dad’s perspective, BATF had been actively waging war on gun owners for years, and he had left his dream job as editor and publisher of Rifle and Handloader magazines, with the specific objective of destroying the BATF and reforming GCA’68.
By the mid-1970s, the BATF had earned a reputation for being excessively aggressive, nit-picky, vindictive, and often unscrupulous. Dozens of stories emerged of ATF abuses, and analysis of their arrest and prosecution records showed that a majority of their cases didn’t involve malevolent criminal activity, but instead targeted ordinary gun owners who were tripped up by confusing regulations and federal red tape.
When Dad began waging the war on BATF, he exposed the horror stories, published the records, and showed the ruined lives of regular citizens that littered BATF’s wake. In 1979, Dad convinced Senators Jim McClure (R-ID) and Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) to hold hearings on the BATF’s enforcement practices and abuses. In the hearings, Dad made it clear that, while the BATF’s actions were atrocious, the real culprit in the sad saga was the GCA.
As Dad said in his Senate testimony, any agency tasked with enforcing such poorly written laws would be hard pressed not to fall into a similar pattern of abuse.
As a direct result of this process of sanitation through sunlight, the ATF received harsh rebukes from Congress, and had millions of dollars pulled from their annual budget. President Reagan was actually on the verge of dissolving the agency entirely, and turning their enforcement responsibilities over to the FBI. Dad opposed that move on the grounds that a crippled and closely scrutinized BATF would be easier to keep in check than the more powerful and respected FBI enforcing the same bad laws.
There has been a lot of second-guessing and criticism over that call, but by keeping the focus on BATF as a symptom resulting from bad laws, rather than allowing the agency to be used as a scapegoat, Dad was able to more effectively treat the symptoms, while still going after the underlying disease – the GCA.
Dad’s primary objective in accepting the leadership position at NRA-ILA was to reform the GCA, removing from the law as many booby-traps and nonsensical restrictions as he could. With this in mind, he and the ILA staff worked closely with the staffs of Senator McClure and Representative Harold Volkmer (D-MO) on a sweeping “gun de-control” bill. The bill became known as the Firearm Owner Protection Act, and a somewhat watered-down version of it was finally passed in 1986.
Almost 30 years after passage of the McClure-Volkmer Bill, the BATF remains plagued with scandals and accusations of abuse of authority. In 2002, as part of the 9-11 restructuring, BATF’s enforcement branch was placed under the Department of Justice alongside the FBI and DEA. The move, which was supposed to help restore the BATF’s sullied reputation, did nothing to slow the chronic mismanagement and abuse. What it has done however, is highlight the role of DOJ prosecutors in BATF’s misdeeds.
Like any law enforcement agency, BATF relies on fear and results to justify its budget requests. While it’s easy to paint pictures of all sorts of potential threats with which to scare Congress into throwing more money at them, BATF must rely on DOJ prosecutors to garner actual results.
Elaborate operations and large arrest numbers fall flat when accompanied by very low conviction rates, and that’s exactly what BATF has been producing for decades.
But it’s often the prosecutors who drive these cases, telling enforcers what types of cases they want pursued, and what types of evidence they need for convictions.
In a number of cases, it’s clear that prosecutors encouraged ATF to “bend” evidence, intentionally misrepresented laws and regulations, and conspired with BATF to suppress evidence that could be harmful to the prosecution. They did it to Albert Kwan, David Olofson, the Reese family, and others we’ve reported on over the years. They were active coconspirators in Operation Fast & Furious. And recently, in a lawsuit from former agent, Jay Dobyns, accusing BATF of defamation of character and breach of contract, the judge was so incensed by the actions of government lawyers that he barred 17 DOJ lawyers from his court and suggested that, along with BATF acting in a vindictive and “Kafkaesque” manner toward their own agent, prosecutors and BATF might have engaged in perjury and fraud upon the court.
The pattern is symptomatic of government spiraling out of control with bad laws being enforced and prosecuted by rogue agencies operating without adequate supervision or accountability. If we don’t fix the laws and hold the enforcers and prosecutors accountable, this problem is just going to keep getting worse.
The Firearms Coalition is a loose-knit coalition of individual Second Amendment activists, clubs and civil rights organizations. Founded by Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement. The Firearms Coalition is a project of Neal Knox Associates, Manassas, VA. Visit: www.FirearmsCoalition.org