Former ATF Agent Talks Straw Purchasers, Background Checks and the NRA’s Relentless Attacks on Gun Laws

by on September 24, 2013 · 5 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, History, Politics

Editor: We thought a repost of this article originally posted on the San Diego Free Press March 19 this year would be appropriate.

by Kimberley Beatty

guns1Starting in 1990, I was a federal agent with both the DEA and ATF. My first assignment was with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms at their Richmond, Virginia office. At that time Virginia was a major source for illegal gun trafficking to urban centers in the eastern United States.

Over an 18 month period, 1,627 guns were obtained from crime scenes in New York. 41% of those guns had been purchased in Virginia and 10% of those guns were traced to one store, the Virginia Police Equipment Company in Richmond. That gun shop was not far from the federal building where I worked.

Weak federal gun laws permitted out-of-state criminals to purchase large quantities of weapons from gun stores by using straw purchasers. The straw purchasers were often drug addicts needing money to fuel their habit or a poor single mom. When confronted by law enforcement the straw purchaser would first claim their cache of guns had been stolen and then admit to buying them for out-of-state drug dealers, gunrunners and other criminals, often known only by first names.

At that time there were no limits on gun purchases in Virginia. When the owner of that gun shop, Virginia Police Equipment Company, was finally arrested many years later, his attorney stated that what the owner was accused of doing “happens all the time. So, what’s the big deal?”

Indeed! I recently found a “letter to the editor” my father wrote over two decades ago. He wrote, “The ease with which crooks and drug dealers can purchase weapons in retail outlets throughout the United States is a national disgrace. That fact makes a lie out of the repeated National Rifle Association myth that any restrictions on gun purchases would only interfere with the rights of law-abiding citizens because the bad guys steal theirs. What half-smart drug dealer would risk stealing a weapon when it is so easy to walk into a store and buy one or have a “straw purchaser” do it for you? And that is exactly what they do in the absence of any effective national gun control laws.”

ATF was formed in 1972 as a branch of the Treasury Department, but actually traces its’ roots to alcohol tax collection and Eliot Ness and the Untouchables. ATF’s mandates come from the Gun Control Act of 1968, passed after the shooting deaths of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

But since that time the National Rifle Association (NRA) has relentlessly tried to destroy the agency. In 1981, with the blessing of then-President Ronald Reagan, the NRA tried to dismantle the ATF through legislation. At that time Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, a diehard NRA supporter, called the agency a, “Jackbooted group of fascists who are perhaps as large a danger to American society as I could pick today.” When they realized that the gun laws would transfer to the Secret Service, the NRA scuttled the proposal. But the ATF would be doomed to the Stone Age of law enforcement.

nyt reaganWhen Reagan was shot that same year, in 1981, ATF agents had to crawl over boxes in warehouses, searching through federal firearms forms in order to follow the paper trail of purchases of the gun used to shoot Reagan and his Press Secretary Jim Brady. This was because the NRA had successfully blocked computerization of records of firearms purchases, claiming it infringed upon second amendment rights.

By 1991 there were more than 276,000 federally licensed gun dealers in the US. ATF had less than 2,000 agents. Of 34,000 applications for new licenses that year, only 37 were denied. Federal regulations required ATF to process applications within 45 days, so there was inadequate time and resources to do a thorough background check. A reporter had successfully submitted a Federal Firearms License for his dog, Fifi, because the FBI databank could not determine when a name and Social Security number were fake.

That year, Carrol Landis Brown, from Baltimore, Maryland paid a $30 fee and obtained a federal firearms license to sell firearms that he sold from his home and car. He had had a prior misdemeanor conviction, but that was not a disqualifier. During the next 17 months he sold more than 300 guns, sometimes to felons. Fake addresses were procured, federal and state forms were never filed and Maryland’s 7 day waiting period was ignored. Most of these weapons were high-capacity handguns that turned up on the streets and in crimes and homicides. Innocent people were killed.

The NRA’s relentless attacks on federal and state gun laws continued. Its support of the national database for criminal background checks was conditioned on prohibiting local ATF offices or other law enforcement agencies from accessing this information. This further limited ATF’s investigative powers. The NRA also required that all records pertaining to the background checks be immediately destroyed. Their allies in congress blocked legislation that would ban cop-killer bullets, assault weapons and close the gun show loopholes. ATF agents were banned from gun shows, even if we were off duty.

In 1993, against the odds, Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder passed the One-Gun-A-Month Law. It had a dramatic affect. This past February, after almost 20 years, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell repealed that law, despite pleas from family members of shooting victims at Virginia Tech.


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sean m September 24, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Or crooks steal a gun. A bunch of Kenyans wished they brought a piece to the mall the other day.

Will more gun laws make us safer? Mexico has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. There’s is only one gun store in mexico. Great Britain has some of the highest violent crime rates in the developed world…


avatar Speak2Truth September 24, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Did that gun store sell the guns legally, with the proper Federally mandated background check? If so, they are not at fault.

If a person chooses to commit crimes, it does not matter where he purchased his guns. What matters is that an armed defender is ready to stop him.

Gun Free Zones ensure he can rack up a huge body count, as do most ‘gun control’ laws that limit the ability of the law-abiding to be armed for self defense.

All this talk about how hard it was to do background checks in 45 days, OVER 20 YEARS AGO, is idiotic. Those days are long gone, thanks to the NRA pushing the nationwide instant-check database. Now, the ATF doesn’t have to climb over file cabinets. At the point of sale, the buyer’s info is entered and a response is provided in minutes. Clean record? You get your guns.

So, make sure the criminals are in the Instant Background Check system and they won’t be buying in gun stores. They’ll just buy on the street corner. Won’t make much difference to them.


avatar TexasTopCat September 24, 2013 at 9:51 pm

My take on this article is that the ATF is not enforcing current law and is being hampered by bad assumptions made by their leadership. Trying to blame your poor job performance on NRA is just a joke. “One gun a month”, well does that mean that NBC can only have editorials once a month? If such laws are not infringement on the RIGHT to own and bear arms, then what is it?
Just since Sandy Hook, the anti-gun person Mark Kelly admitted to attempting to purchase an AR-15 as a straw purchase and lied on the 4473 background check form. If the ATF ledership was interested in law enforcement, why was he not investigated and charged. Out of the 71,000 NICS denials, about 50% were false and later reversed on appeal, and only 77 were ever investigated and charged. I have seen no one claim that any of the 77 cases were ever actually tried or resulted in a conviction.
Please also note that I have no ill will against the field agents that are working under a very bad set of constraints set up by there leadership. Having observed and talked with a few at gun shows, they all come off as very professional and reasonable people.


avatar Debra September 25, 2013 at 6:39 am

We’d all be a lot safer, if EVERYONE carried a gun.


avatar thebronze September 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Typical Anti-Gun Government Lackey.

I doubt anyone would have a problem with the ATF cracking down on those mentioned in the article. The problem is that the ATF spends an inordinate amount of time going after law-abiding citizens (sometimes upon the thinnest of pretexts or via manufactured evidence), instead of REAL crooks.

But then REAL crooks are dangerous and law-abiding citizens aren’t.


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