Who Are All These New ‘Gun Criminals’?

Well, well. Here comes another $480,000 federal Justice Department grant, funding a new Las Vegas Valley strike force comprising five deputy district attorneys and two investigators who will “conduct weekly meetings with federal prosecutors, Las Vegas police firearms detectives and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms,” (the folks who brought us Waco and Ruby Ridge).

The task force will “focus solely on curtailing gun violence,” news accounts proclaim. “Gun violence is what makes people afraid to go to the corner store at night,” explains District Attorney Stewart Bell. “We’re looking to attack the violence of gun offenders,” adds Daniel Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada.

This will be done by “sharing information” and determining whether each person charged with a “gun crime” should be prosecuted in county or federal court, based on which jurisdiction would lead to the harshest sentence, the prosecutors explain.

No one likes violent crime or criminals. Who on earth could object to this?

Oh… me. And maybe you will, too, when you find out what it’s really all about.

Read the above quotations again. Do you notice a purposeful emphasis on the word “violence”? Yet when John Torres, special agent in charge of the San Francisco ATF office (which has jurisdiction here) brags, “We’re going to put a lot of people in jail with this and keep them there.” He significantly adds: “Since we started, we’ve traced over 1,000 guns with Metro and now we’re getting raw intelligence about firearms traffickers. The next project on this is going after the sources of those firearms.”

Why? The Second Amendment guarantees us all the individual, personal right to keep and bear arms — and the subsequent 14th amendment also bars state and local authorities from “enforcing any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States,” a step which “subtly recast” this right into “less a right of the people, and more an individualistic privilege of persons,” according to Yale Law Professor Akhil Reed Amar, in his encyclopedic 1998 work The Bill of Rights.

(In that book, Professor Amar favorably quotes the ruling of Chief Justice Joseph Henry Lumpkin in Nunn vs. Georgia that the right to bear arms is guaranteed to “the whole people, old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every description, and not such merely as used by the militia.”)

So why this shift from “violent offenders” to going after “gun traffickers,” whose activities are wholly immune under the Bill of Rights?

Because all this guff about “violent crime” is just that. The ATF doesn’t go after guys who stick up 7-Elevens. It’s a tax collection agency. Its main job is to infringe and restrict the right of otherwise law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms. This federal grant is part and parcel of the insidious and NRA-endorsed “Project Exile,” now euphemistically re-named by the Bush administration “Project Safe Streets.”

“The biggest problem,” notes Larry Pratt, executive director of the Washington-based Gun Owners of America, “is they’re going to (go after) some guy (who’s been rendered) unqualified under their unconstitutional federal law to have a gun…. The down side is that even someone who committed some kind of disqualifying crime years and years and years ago also gets caught up in this, and that is just merciless.”

Take the case of Don Arnold, “the Citizen of the Year in Maryland, who helped clean up a drug-infested neighborhood in which he also happened to live, in southeast Baltimore,” Pratt relates.

“He worked as a private security specialist and had a concealed carry permit in the state of Maryland, and the same year he gets this award… they find… he’s ‘disqualified’ to own a gun.

“What happened is, he took a swing at someone in 1969. Don was wearing a Vietnam veteran’s jacket, and somebody called him a baby-killer, and he took a swing at ’em. He was convicted and served a couple of days. But because it was an offense for which the penalty could have been up to 25 years, now they say he’s not the kind of person who can be trusted with a gun. They actually took away his permit and his gun… and his job, of course.”

So now we know the kind of “gun crimes” Mr. Bell’s new task force is really going to be prosecuting.

“These are the people who can be trapped,” Mr. Pratt continues. “They actually go to a gun store because they figure their rights are automatically restored three or five years after getting out of jail if you keep your nose clean…. So they’re technically lying on the government form they’ve got to fill out, and ‘Gotcha!’ It makes prosecutors feel happy, but it doesn’t do anything to make the streets safer.”

Another example of how the new federal initiatives work is that of Mike Mahoney, a pool hall owner in Tennessee who frequently made bank deposits at night and thus, understandably, wanted a gun to protect himself.

Mahoney bought a .32-caliber Derringer from a pawn shop in 1992, The Wall Street Journal reported last July 3. Later, when that gun was stolen, he returned to the gun shop to buy a North American Arms .22-caliber pistol as a replacement.

But Mahoney failed to mention on his application that he had drug felonies on his record from 13 years prior to his purchase of the firearms. (In 1979, at the age of 24, he had sold methamphetamine to an undercover officer.)

Mahoney explained to the court that he had just completed — and passed — a thorough criminal investigation to get a state beer license. “I thought, since I was able to get a beer license after living a clean life for 10 years, that my gun rights would be restored,” said Mahoney, who is now serving a mandatory sentence of 15 years in a federal prison.

Even the presiding magistrate in Mahoney’s case was stunned. “I’m groping to find a way to get around the Draconian sentence” required by the law, admitted Judge James D. Todd. “I don’t think that this is the kind of case that Congress had in mind” when it passed legislation to “get tough on gun crimes.”

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a monthly contributor to Shotgun News, and the author of Send in the Waco Killers… the 1999 “Freedom Book of the Year.” For information on his monthly newsletter, “Privacy Alert,” or on his new book, The Ballad of Carl Drega, write 561 Keystone Ave., Suite 684, Reno, NV 89503; e-mail [email protected]; or dial 775-348-8591.