Biden’s ATF Betrays Basic Law Enforcement Principles…and Brags About It

ATF agent
image courtesy ATF

A recent article at the NRA’s news website tells us the story of continued abuse of people in the firearms industry by Biden’s weaponized BATFE. Not only are they continuing to destroy livelihoods over simple paperwork and clerical errors, but they’re also bragging about it. This unprofessional behavior betrays a basic principle of law enforcement laid out by Sir Robert Peele, the “father of modern policing”.

Why ATF is Spiking the Ball

In the past, agents of the BATFE have typically tried to at least look like they’re fair in their regulation of the firearms industry. We know that many of them far from honest, with things like the “Fast and Furious” scandal, attempts to entrap people, and convicting people for machine gun possession when their firearm malfunctioned. But outside of these high profile scandals, the average FFL could stay in business as long as they operated within the law and watched out for attempts to entrap them.

But under the Biden administration, things changed. Drastically. Instead of trying to play their entrapment games, the agency adopted a “zero tolerance” policy for honest paperwork mistakes. Typos on 4473 forms, misspellings, information entered in the wrong box, and any other tiny but honest mistake is now considered a willful violation of the law and used to destroy a gun retailer’s business.

This led to the number of FFLs losing their licenses and thus their livelihoods. In the last six months of 2021, only five licenses were revoked. In 2022, 88 FFLs were shut down. In 2023, 157 FFLs were yanked. At this rate of growth, anywhere from 300 to 1000 licenses could be revoked in 2024.

As you’d expect, FFLs are fighting back and some are winning. The number of dealers deciding to go through the process of contesting FFL revocations has gone way up, and more revoked licensees prevailed in 2023 than were shut down, with 2022 being similar (83 dealers winning at the hearing). So, it’s abundantly clear that the agency is using its zero tolerance policy to harass, not enforce actual violations of the law.

At least one firearms business has chosen to go to the next step to fight the agency in court, pointing out that the law requires violations to be willful and not accidental (among other things). This case is currently being litigated in a federal court in Texas. There’s also a bill in the U.S. House and one in the Senate that could reverse this situation if (a very big if) passed into law.

But, there have been businesses who weren’t willing to go through the expense and hassle of defending their licenses. The number of FFLs voluntarily surrendering licenses after minor clerical errors has also gone way up.

Why This Flies In The Face of Basic Policing Principles

It’s easy to think that we’ve always had policing in the United States and the western world, but that simply not true. Before the mid-1800s, there were few law enforcement positions in government. Under the English common law system, a large city or county would have a constable or a sheriff with no staff. Groups of citizens would conduct night watches and patrols to discourage crime in the growing cities and either citizens or the rare law enforcement official could take a criminal to court.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a law enforcement system in place, though. In the event that extra people were needed, the sheriff or constable could conscript people to assist in a system known as posse comitatus, which operated similarly to the militia system.

In extreme situations, military personnel could be conscripted into law enforcement or the military itself would engage in law enforcement activities. Today, however, local officials cannot force federal military personnel to serve in that role without the permission of the President of the United States (Posse Comitatus Act).

As cities grew and criminals became better organized, the system of a few full-time officers backed up by volunteers and posses was stretched too thin. This happened first in London in 1829 with the first police department started by Sir Robert Peel. This is why British police officers are often referred to as “Bobby” or “Bobbies” to this day.

Cities in the United States followed suit in the following decades, relying heavily on the British experience when they got started. Later, county sheriff offices and then whole states adopted the professional policing model.

Eventually, even the federal government got into it creating agencies like the FBI and existing positions in the Secret Service and Customs forming into new professional agencies. Both good and bad came of this, as many police leaders became corrupt and even wielded illegal power, with J. Edgar Hoover probably being the most glaring example of this.

As professional law enforcement grew, the lessons learned in early British policing came to be known as the Peelian Principles, and they were widely adopted (at least in theory). Things like caring about public approval and respect, seeking voluntary cooperation, avoiding the use of force where possible, remaining politically impartial, and not becoming estranged from the communities the police serve are all mentioned. Sadly, many of the problems in today’s policing can be traced to the abandonment of one or more of these principles.

In the case of the weaponized ATF, the ninth Peelian principle really stands out. It says, in part, “…the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

Instead of aiming to keep harmful things from happening in the firearms industry, the BATFE has lost its way. Now, they’re anything but politically impartial. They seek to pump up enforcement statistics and brag about them rather than showing how their work has encouraged FFLs to take steps to reduce straw purchases and keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and gangs. Instead, ATF has been caught participating in the very criminal activity they’re ostensibly supposed to be fighting.

I’d recommend reading the full set of principles yourself, but the bottom line here is that the BATFE has fallen into the same trap as many blue city police agencies and has betrayed these basic principles almost entirely. Both the agency and law-abiding Americans are worse off for it.

8 Responses

  1. “Peelian Principles”

    I learned something new today.

    March 3, 2024
    The day Haz first came over to SNW to check it out, after several years at TTAG. (Pokes around, starts reading the articles here…)

    1. It’s starting a bit slow, but will be picking up.

      No edit function yet, but should be along soon, I hope…

  2. Lost its way? That implies the ATF was anything other than a state sponsored terrorist organization.

  3. Can we just start with the basic understanding that the ATF is NOT about “enforcing laws” or “reasonable gun regulation” (as if such a thing existed)? The ATF exists for one reason, and one reason only, to fulfill the onanistic fantasies of the regulators and the anti-gun fanatics. “Zero tolerance” makes sense in a “broken window policing” context, where you are talking about ACTUAL crime. In the context of criminalizing inadvertent and unintentional clerical errors, when NO malicious intent existed (and NO crime occurred) is simply government-sponsored and supported, jackbooted, thuggism. I would say that Dettelbach, the self-admitted “not an expert”, was free to osculate my anal sphincter, but I wouldn’t let that deranged pervert anywhere near my nether regions.

    The (so-called) “Biden Administration” can be taken seriously only by congenital idiots and “true believers” . . . ah, but I repeat myself.

  4. Let’s not forget the other things they regulate and have no actual role in dong such. Alcohol, really? A holdover from prohibition that literally gave organized crime the boost it needed. Tobacco, yup, I’m not even sure how they got the responsibility to chase this, beyond taxes… But its all ultimately about taxes, right?

  5. This isn’t an ATF or law enforcement problem. It’s a morality problem. Look what the FBI and DOJ did over the past eight years. They were caught red-handed, and no one is even talking about it. Look at what Homeland Security is doing right now. We have a severely corrupt government that isn’t only out for themselves at the expense of others, they’re actively persecuting their political opposition. Look at historical examples of this. What comes next?

    1. what, exactly, did fbi and doj do over the 8 years where they were “caught red handed” and “no one is even talking about it?”

      1. Russia, Russia, Russia. Where have you been? The FBI and DOJ not only lied to the American public, they tried to persecute the POTUS for something they knew was based on lies. Then they tried to get him on perjury and obstruction for their made up investigation. To top it off, the Obama Administration spied on a rival party presidential candidate. Are you seriously that unaware, or are you being dishonest? That was practically the only story in this country for three years. Then it completely unraveled. Then the media promptly forgot about the only story in our country for the past three years. No Democrat wondered why they were lied to. The truth is, they didn’t care. It’s more proof of the amoral infection known as the Democrat Party.

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