Ambition, Turning Down Heat Seen as Motivators behind ATF Proposals on Guns

By David Codrea

If Trump is going to do things differently, do you think careerists trying to impress him will do it with commemorative mementos like this, or do you think. as a businessman. he'd ask what this cost overburdened taxpayers and why existing badges wouldn't suffice? [ATF Facebook photo]
USA – -( “The second-highest-ranking official at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has written a proposal to reduce gun regulations, including examining a possible end to the ban on importing assault weapons into the United States,” The Washington Post reported Monday.  “The ‘white paper’ by Ronald B. Turk, associate deputy director and chief operating officer of the ATF, calls for removing restrictions on the sale of gun silencers; allowing gun dealers to have more guns used in crimes traced to their stores before the federal government requires additional information from the dealer; and initiating a study on lifting the ban on imported assault weapons.”

The paper itself is posted on WaPo’s website. AmmoLand Shooting Sports News colleague Dean Weingarten was among the first to analyze what is being proposed and to assess why in his summation from a pro-gun owner rights perspective.

“As a long term bureaucrat, this white paper reads as an application for the ATF director spot,” Weingarten surmises. “The paper fairly screams: I am willing to work with you, and I know how to take direction.”

That tracks with opinions I’ve received from insider and industry sources. It also works to mitigate the threat to the Bureau of having its functions spun off to different agencies. That's a proposal being considered under an ATF Elimination Act bill by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner that is currently under review by the House Judiciary Committee.

“I’m probably not the best guy to ask,” a former special agent whistleblower I’d worked with on Operation Fast and Furious reports and on other stories replied, citing professional differences with and perceived mistreatment by “white paper” author Turk. Recusing himself for an admitted conflict of interest demonstrated the ethics that have made him a reliable source and advisor.

Another former special agent and past source shared his negative opinion, more colorfully, adding a further assessment of what he referred to as Turk’s “self serving … political ambitions.”

“There is no way this is any ‘accident,’” firearms designer and president of Historic Arms, LLC, Len Savage told me. He referenced a copy of another recent article, this one by attorney and former ATF legal counsel Teresa G. Ficaretta appearing in a recent issue of Small Arms Defense Journal (the article does not appear to be available online) titled “10 Things Trump Can Do for the Firearms Industry: President Trump Should Use Executive Authority to Improve the Regulatory Environment for the U.S. Firearms Industry.”

It should be noted in the interest of subjective disclosures that Savage and Ficaretta have crossed paths before. You can read or listen to his interview with the late Aaron Zelman of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership in which he relates an encounter.

But back to her article. She elaborates on 10 points:

  1. Permit importation of U.S. – Origin Firearms (…M1 Garands, M1 Carbines 1911 pistols…).

  2. Direct the Departments of State, Commerce and Defense to complete export control reform (…streamline the process for U.S. exporters to obtain export licenses, as well as eliminate the more burdensome aspects present of the ITAR [and] increase the competitive positioning of U.S. companies in the world market…).

  3. Streamline the Form 9 process for exports of NFA firearms (…regulations relating to the Form 9 [should] be amended, so it is a notice submitted following lawful exportation rather than an application submitted prior to export…).

  4. Reduce registration fees imposed by State under the ITAR (…The White House should direct the Secretary of State to immediately review and reduce the registration fee structure to create a more transparent and level playing field…).

  5. Direct the Department of State to discontinue Congressional notification for parts and components of firearms parts (…Requiring this lengthy process for firearms parts delays shipment of repair and replacement parts to allies who have already received shipments of U.S. firearms approved by State…).

  6. Revoke and replace State’s guidance on registration for firearms manufacturers (…the guidance turns the concept of firearm manufacturing on its head, stating that any operation using special tooling or equipment to improve the capability of assembled or repaired firearms is manufacturing…).

  7. Allow licensed manufacturers to transfer registered machineguns to other qualified manufacturers (…The ruling imposes significant costs on manufacturers of machineguns and serves no apparent law enforcement or public safety purpose…).

  8. Direct the Department of the Treasury to provide more resources to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (…The Secretary of the Treasury should be directed to provide TTB with more resources dedicated to firearms and ammunition excise tax. Alternatively, the new Secretary of the Treasury should consider re-delegating administration and enforcement of firearms and ammunition excise tax to the Internal Revenue Service…).

  9. Direct ATF to implement reliable and efficient e-forms (…President Trump and the new Attorney General should direct ATF to commit funding to upgrade and maintain its e-forms system…).

  10. Consider another amnesty period (…Allowing owners of such firearms to register them with ATF would get more firearms out of the attics and basements of our country and accounted for in accordance with the law…).

Yeah, I hear ya on 10. I wouldn’t either.

Similarities between Ficaretta’s article and Turk’s “white paper” exist, as do different points of recommendation and emphasis. The timing is curious, but may reflect nothing more than a sense that the Trump administration means to do things differently, so now is the time to push for wish lists. That said, both have understandable professional incentives to establish themselves as leaders in reform.

Savage agrees that such incentives, including the potential for the top spot at BATFE, could be factors. Another potential explanation is one of organizational pragmatism.

“ATF as an institution is looking to lighten the bureaucratic load,” Savage ventures. “ATF knows that they are between a rock and a hard place with respect to many things (barrel ban, arm brace, short barrel non shotguns, etc.)….and the exhaustive list is legion. What better way to make your life easier and get the monkey off your back than to ‘deregulate’ and no longer have to deal with such things on a day-to-day basis (and us nipping at them for their troubles)?

“One thing has been established with these revelations though,” he adds. “The FOIA for all ATF letter rulings [messed] with them and we have it documented again since the CRS Oct. 2005 memo that they themselves have no database of them, or sense of what they have ‘approved’ over the years.”

He was referring to a Freedom of information Act request (full disclosure: I am one of the requesters) for opinions, rulings, policies or interpretations handed down over the years, noting there is no way to verify or ensure against conflicting instructions. Indeed, per that memo, 12 years ago ATF had “over 300 cubic feet of classification letters stored in file cabinets.” The Bureau hasn’t scanned any of these documents into a searchable database to assure consistency of interpretation, to identify and resolve regulatory conflicts. The extent to which this inconsistency has grown and compounded in intervening years is unknown and unknowable without a major organization and review effort. Right now, it would be like trying to search the Indiana Jones warehouse.

That no doubt inspired and influenced one of the improvements proposed by Turk:

A complication from this, something ATF and Justice are well aware of and which came to me from a trusted source whose information has proven reliable innumerable times:

A defense attorney asked for access to such a database in discovery and suddenly a “deal” was offered to his “felon in possession, illegal immigrant, backroom, off-the-books gun-making, felony-stupid” client.

Obviously, there will be those who dismiss all of this with the opinion that there is no Constitutional basis for ATF in the first damn place and all infringements need to be thrown out now. No argument, but in the absence of knowing how to make that happen, I submit this for the consideration of those interested in some of the potentialities we’re likely to see unfolding as President Trump addresses what he wants to do with the Bureau, and those running it look to keep and advance their places at the table.

David Codrea in his natural habitat.

About David Codrea:

David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament.

In addition to being a field editor/columnist at GUNS Magazine and associate editor for Oath Keepers, he blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.

  • 43 thoughts on “Ambition, Turning Down Heat Seen as Motivators behind ATF Proposals on Guns

    1. Respecting the foul-up that ATF management has historically made of federal firearms law enforcement, I wonder as to whether these worthies are really worried as to the continuation of the gravy train that these “civil servants” have been riding. I also wonder, with due regard to the cate blanc that these people have enjoyed from The Congress ( House and Senate), as well as from past presidents, as to whether the “free ride” ATF Leadership has enjoyed might finally be coming to it’s end.

    2. They are terrified that trump will take a sledgehammer to the crooked and evil atf. One huge irony is that the banning of imported rifles directly led to the explosion of the domestic AR market – which is why they are a mainstream firearm these days, and why the polls have done a 180 degree turnaround since the 90s.

      So thank you to the gun banners for banning the importing of AKs, FALs, etc – without you, the ARs would not be the dominant rifle in america, and dozens of companies would not be employing who knows how many tens of thousands of people.

    3. I’d like to just see the ATF either disbanded or at least re-purposed to fight against state and federal gun laws which are all unconstitutional. That would give the ATF a Constitutional reason to exist, which they don’t really have now. Also, they would be doing some good, which they aren’t now. It would turn them into actual good guys instead of goose-stepping thugs, although there might also need to be a good amount of turnover in the ranks to accomplish that.

    4. What with Mr.Turk’s “white paper”, among other things, think that management types at the ATF might be a bit concerned re their longevity in government service, with all the perks that such activity brings?

    5. Seeing how the BATFE is filled with people of low character I suggest an amnesty for ATF personnel for their past deeds provided they come clean about their, and others in the Agencys, wrong doing. I have been watching the ATF since its inception. They are nothing but glorified thugs.

    6. Tionico:

      Unless blue is your favorite color, I respectfully suggest that you not hold your breath waiting for the appointment or nomination of any such person.

    7. Toinico:

      Many of the people who go on and on about assault weapons and assault rifles haven’t the proverbial clue as to what either is, and that, sad to note, included at least a few gun owners, likely more than a few.

    8. Chuck;

      If I may, a quick question about the wording in your post. You said there were no assault weapons on the street, continuing to describe the things as fully automatic, and so on. Last time I looked, assault rifles were selective fire weapons, of rifle configuration, chambered for intermediate cartridge. God only knows what an assault weapon might be, however I would say that it it could be virtualy anything.

      Otherwise, it is not my intention to start a pissing match, however the anti gun types have been playing word games for as many years as I can remember, possibly longer. Let’s not give them additional ammunition, no pun intended. Words unuttered are servants. Words once uttered are no longer servants. They can become the master.

    9. The atf must go. After reading the book about fast and furious really open my eyes to the real Obamanation he really is! For those who have not read the book which some may know and i am not trying to step on anyones toes here. Obama holder and company replaced the agents in charge at all atf offices and they are still there. It was told these new agents put in charge had ZERO experiance. And President Trump must remove and end this program NOW. Do not trust this at all .

    10. @Wild Bill, wonder if twitter directly to Donald Trump would work and be the most direct route past anyone who would intercept?

      1. I don’t know how effective twitter or email or that stuff is. I know that in Washington DC political circles, they view a well written personal letter as the tip of a ten thousand voter iceberg.

    11. Re Mr. Turk’s “white paper”, which struck me as A Day Late, A Dollar Short, perfectly polite language I believe, last night I inquired of the ATF offices in D. C., the gentleman’s office email, note his office, not home address, so that I might express the above thought to him. No contact information was privided by the ATF, which suggested that I contact the Public and Government Affairs Office. A phone number was provided. The person I spoke with there also declined to provide an office email address for Mr. Turk, but said that she would forward my comment.How come the secrecy, I wonder, as Turk has been to war, where he no doubt heard and possibly used “strong language”, something I did not indulge in. How come indeed.

    12. Those badges come out from every agency for every presidential inauguration and are purchased with personal funds. Zero tax dollars are spent on them. Maybe try and actually research a topic before you write about it, inauguration badges have been commonplace for at least 30 years.

    13. Throwing the ATF down the toilet seems like the most beneficial result for the country. We are long past moonshine stills and the like for them to take down. Now they just exist to cause whatever mischief they can muster to justify their cushy jobs.
      In addition to getting rid of the rats, think of the money it would save the country. How many federal cop departments do we have, and why do we need that many?

      1. Well said tomcat! If we start a letter writing campaign explaining all this to the Trump administration, we may have the best (or maybe last) chance to rid ourselves of the BATFE budget dollar suckers. Anybody got an Trump administration address?

    14. As to the suggestion for another “amnesty period”, most certainly but with the following exceptions. It’s duration should be not less than 6 months, preferably longer. Additionally, this amnesty period should receive the greatest possibly NATIONAL PUBLICATION over a period of not less than 6 months prior to the beginning of the amnesty period. Failure to meet the above conditions would be sufficient grounds to void any penalties, civil, financial or criminal for violation of the amnesties terms, which by the way shall be written and publicized in PLAIN ENGLISH, plus such other languages as necessary, reference is here made to the following admonition so often head these days, “press 1 for English”.

      1. why an amnesty period for complying with an unconstitutional restriction anyway?

        Why not dump the requirement to register? On WHAT constitutional basis is that requirement based?

        I say repeal the special requirements for certain classes of arms. And let anyone who can verify they have paid that fee/tax deduct it from future federal tax liablities. In other words, they get their illegelly confiscated money back.

    15. Believe Turk is reading the hand writing on the wall. White Paper is just a bunch of double talk. Rep Sensenbrenner has the right idea and must be scaring the hell out of the batf. However all of the gun control laws need to be abolished along with the agency. Eliminating the agency does not eliminate gun control laws. Hopefully Rep. Sensenbrenner is doing both in his bill.

    16. As the author notes, ATF should not even EXIST. All internal memos , rule making and ‘ white papers ‘ have ZERO basis in LAW. ***** The BATF was never properly created , it is a bureaucratic ‘ Invention ‘ … and if Rule Of Law is to mean anything, must be ABOLISHED. We can have laws properly passed by Congress and overseen by a REAL , Constitutionally created agency. In addition to this most BASIC ‘ Fatal Flaw ‘ …. BATF has a long history of abuse that goes FAR beyond WACO , Weaver Family Murders , or Fast and ‘ HOLDERish ‘, ATF has LIED in courts for 20 years about it’s shoddy record keeping , while hanging everyday gun owners and sellers out to dry. — Do a little digging with this information below and you are sure to find even more examples to …. DRAIN & Abolish ATF.
      BATF / IRS Criminal Fraud : How ATF was created.
      — Supreme Law dot ORG. , library , authors , Cooper.
      BATF Institutional Perjury : NC Gun Lawyer , James Jeffries , Affidavit ;

    17. Now that the writing is on the wall all the suck ups at ATF want to CYA. To be honest I don’t think the FBI or DEA would want the ATF folks in their ranks.

      1. I don’t want the BATF folks in either or any other of those gummit organisations, either. Best place for them is the soupline for a season, then maybe they will learn how to produce VALUABLE work product for an open marketplace.

    18. Any federal regs we can eliminate is heading in the right direction,but I also belive the ATF needs its pants pulled down and a huge enema applied.Lets hope Trump proceedes to his house cleaning of Muslim,liberal,Obama admin folks.

    19. “Yeah, I hear ya on 10. I wouldn’t either” What a douche bag. He probly has half a dozen class 3 weapons that he has invested in and doesn’t want to devalue them , like a lot of class 3 owners I’ve noticed. Well guess what guys, if that’s you, your going to lose your asses if 1934 or 1986 is repealed. And I hope they are.

    20. The ATF is a federal agency created solely to prosecute victimless crimes, is a direct impediment to liberty, and should be abolished immediately.

      1. At least respecting firearms, and more important is the following. The laws under which it operates re firearms are poorly written baloney, at best. That is the congresses disgrace. Worse yet remains the fact that concerning the nonfeasance, the malfeasance of the ATF re firearms enforcement, the same Congress has essentially looked on like an aged grandparent foolishly oohing and aughing over the antics of some spoiled brat.

    21. If it gets some of the onerous restrictions removed, great. I don’t care why they do what they do, as long as they do it.

      1. Raybiker73: Turk is a weasel. If you believe for one second he’s doing any of this because he wants to see things made easier and more clear for the average gun owner you are sadly mistaken. This carrot is attached to a huge stick which they will wield with a vengeance on us as soon as the believe they can.

        The answer is to fire Turk and for Congress to eliminate ALL rule making authority by ATF, if they want something done it has to go through the law making process, no more rules turned into regulations turned into us being charged with felonies. Need I remind you of their famous attempt to classify a shoe string attached to the trigger of an AK as a full auto device? Never give them an inch, never believe a word they say and always believe that the best gun laws are NO gun laws!

        1. They just don’t want any of their “authority” to make rules taken away. When a less second amendment friendly President gets in, what would stop them from reversing?

          1. nothing

            and THAT is the scary bit about this Turk chap….. he’s still a government minion.

            What we really need to head up BATF is for an outsider to come in and look at the whole mess as an independent business producing and marketing a specific set of products. Someone who is not “married” to governmenthink.

            And who COMPREHENDS our Constitution and the twin concepts of natural rights and personal responsibility

    22. This is also an attempt to also avoid anything becoming an actual law, so that later administrations can just simply change the rules when they take power and do as they wish

    23. I think for god and country,some gave all and all gave some.right to bear arms I agree ,but a policy on prerequisites should be established to corner gun buyers who contribute to the issues that violate god and country. This will cut out the jibber jabber that prevents convictions greatly and teach others here in the USA to think ahead of a bad decision. Heavily populated areas are the only ones that have enough authority and higher education to really support high powered assault rifles.

      1. so splain yo’ sewf on that bit about heavily populated areas supporting high powered assault rifles? Dontchya remember, the puny underpowered military rifles specifically FOR urban areas and their typical relatively close quarters combat. They aren’t an appropriate area for Main Battle Rifles such as the .7.62 NATO round.

        Can’t quite “get” your drift here.

        1. For the millionth time, there are no assault weapons on the streets. Assault weapons are fully automatic which were outlawed in the 1930’s. Still dumb ass people who know nothing about guns and running their mouths!!!

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