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.