alternative politics

Next wave

by Benedict D. LaRosa

Is Your Church BATF Approved?

So reads a banner at a road block leading to the Branch Davidian compound (Mount Carmel) near Waco, the site of a standoff between members of that religious sect and federal law enforcers precipitated by an unprovoked attack from agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF).

Until now the IRS has been considered the most tyrannical federal agency. It now appears that the BATF is vying for the title of American Gestapo.

Descendant from the hated "Revenuers" of Prohibition (1919-1933), the BATF came into being in 1972. Originally formed to keep records and collect taxes on alcohol tobacco, and firearms, it now enforces legislative edicts and its own regulations by force of arms.

Horror stones about this agency abound. On December 16, 1991 John Lawmaster of Tulsa, Oklahoma, returned home to find his front and back doors broken, the contents of his house scattered and damaged, and his guns, ammunition, and personal property exposed. Earlier that day, 30 heavily armed BATF agents, accompanied by 30 state and local police, had cordoned off his street and battered down his doors in search of illegal firearms. A life-long resident of Tulsa, Lawmaster had never gotten more than a traffic ticket. Among the debris that was once the contents of his home, he found a note which read, "Nothing Found — ATF".

No attempt had been made to notify Lawmaster of the "visit" and gain his voluntary compliance to the search warrant. When contacted by telephone, the BATF didn't offer an explanation of what had happened or why. An agent insisted that Lawmaster come to his office if he wanted to talk to him, but warned, "You bring your attorney, and we won't talk to you "When Lawmaster's attorney tried to obtain a copy of the affidavit supporting the search warrant to determine whether probable cause existed, he found it had been sealed by the court.

In another case, the BATF accused John Benjamin of Portland Oregon of erroneously filling out the Form 2. Benjamin insisted that the law did not require him to fill out a Form 2 every time he moved a part of a gun he was manufacturing from one end of his workbench to another. When they raided his premises, Benjamin refused to allow the agents to search his mother's house near by without a search warrant. In retaliation, the BATF shut down his business. When pressure from his Congressman allowed Benjamin's business to reopen, the BATF revoked his firearms license. At an August 1992 hearing, the BATF refused to tell Benjamin what conclusions they had reached at a previous hearing.

Benjamin's license revocation has been stayed pending appeal. However, rather than reissue Benjamin's license, the BATF merely authorised him by letter to buy and sell to other dealers. Since the law requires a license, other dealers refuse to do business with Benjamin. He is in a Catch 22.

Even licensed dealers who cooperate with the BATF are abused. Hilda Weiss, co-owner of Virginia Police Supply, had for over four years reported immediately to the BATF through coded telephone beeper calls multiple gun sales to individuals far beyond what the law required. When she wanted to stop making such sales to people the BATF asked her to watch, she was told to continue selling to them. Shortly after Hilda and her husband stopped selling more than two handguns per customer, they were charged with selling guns to an intermediary (strawman sales), which is forbidden by law.

Some time afterwards, the BATF released a report stating that Virginia gun dealers accounted for 40% of the "traceable" guns seized in New York City in 1991 The U.S. Attorney for Richmond added that 27% of those were from Virginia Police Supply! Actually, Virginia accounted for only 33% of the total handguns seized, but this was on the eve of a fight in the Virginia legislature to limit Virginians to one handgun purchase per month. Mrs Weiss had unwittingly cooperated in putting her state and business in a bad light, thus furthering the gun control agenda.

The couple pleaded guilty because prosecutors threatened to charge their son if they didn't. Hilda received a five month jail sentence, five months house arrest, and a $30,000 fine. Her husband, a retired Army Lt. Colonel, committed suicide when he was not allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

This past January, CBS' "60 Minutes" exposed BATF sexual and other abuses. One BATF agent told "60 Minutes" "I look an oath. And the thing that I find totally abhorrent and disgusting is these high-level people took that same oath and they violate the basic principles and tenets of the Constitution and the laws and simple ethics and morality." Another agent admitted, "The people that I put in jail have more honor than the top administration in this organization."

BATF's agenda appears to be one of harassing law-abiding gun owners and putting legitimate gun dealers out of business. In so doing, it serves gun control interests within and without the government. This puts it on a collision course with citizens determined to defend their rights. What happened at the Branch Davidian compound was, therefore, inevitable.

It is comforting to know, however, that the spirit of armed resistance to tyranny still exists among some Americans, that there are still those willing to sacrifice even their lives to defend their rights.

Whatever the fate of the Branch Davidians, many Americans see Mount Carmel as a modern-day Lexington. Some fear that the next incident may turn into another Concord. o

Some protestors gather at the standoff outside of Waco (Photo by Maggie Rice, James Dorau, and Robert Carrier).

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