By Dan Shea

“We have a harder time with the red tape heroes than we do the enemy - maybe we are fighting the wrong guys.” - The late Volker Kurtz

Volker always had a way of cutting through the baloney. To those who didn’t know him, for decades he was the face of HK Oberndorf, running tests in jungles, deserts, and tundras, and also braving the sometimes hostile environment of the international trade shows. Volker was a true believer in not only HK, but primarily in the end users; soldiers, police, and anyone under arms that was on the side of what’s good and right. We lost him a little while ago, and our community is a poorer place for that.

Public relations is hard enough, but when your customer is protecting people, saving lives, and sometimes having to take them while in harm’s way, it makes it more difficult to wander the myriad hallways of bureaucracy and not be amazed at the roadblocks in the way of getting things done. One wonders if the people on the approve/disapprove end of the paperwork truly understand what’s at stake. It also makes it hard to go to those end users, the ones who have it all on the line, and say, “Well, regulation such-n-such, paragraph so-n-so, basically means that even if this is the best item for you to use, you can’t have it because it didn’t pass some bureaucratic test.” The end user doesn’t care; he or she just wants to get the job done.

The current training environment is a good example. The end user asks, “Please train us on the SVD Dragunov. We’re not only facing it in combat, but our allies are using it so we need it in our training.” The trainer files import paperwork, and is told, “We’re sorry, but the SVD is Russian and under the VRA you can’t import them.” The trainer files for Chinese SVDs and is told, “We’re sorry, but those are Chinese and can’t come in to the US.” The government then suggests that the trainer utilize the Romanian FPL/PSL because it “Looks like an SVD.” Well, it’s not an SVD - it’s a dressed up Kalashnikov, a totally different system. That’s like training a mechanic to fix Fords using Toyotas because they “Look the same.” Yeah... four wheels, doors, engine, trunk... they’re “The same.”

Before I go completely off the edge, let’s acknowledge that this particular problem stems from years of anti-firearms ownership people in Congress passing laws about things they don’t understand, with unintended consequences downstream. The regulatory agencies are pretty well trapped into this enforced obstructionism. However, it would be nice to see solutions found.

I have often mused that there is a secret Department of Impediment within every government (as well as inside some large companies) and that they have their people clandestinely scattered throughout the other agencies. It’s really just a mindset, Can-Do versus No-Can-Do. I can tell whether someone wants to solve problems in the first few minutes of talking with them. If all they offer is countless reasons of why they can’t do something, no matter that it appears they can, then I know I have a member of the Department of Impediment in front of me.

Fortunately for all, there are unsung heroes within the bureaucracy that fight through every day, and do try to find those solutions. Instead of a blanket condemnation of the agencies we deal with, let’s try to recognize the good guys and weed out the bad ones. This is why we need strong trade/consumer organizations to represent us, to help navigate the regulatory scheme we all have to live with. It doesn’t matter if you’re a major multi-national corporation or a collector of firearms, if you are in the U.S. and have to deal with unusual weapons you generally are confronted by the National Firearms Act and its arcane intricacies. The NFATCA is a good organization to support in this case, whether you’re a collector or that large organization that needs to deal with restricted firearms.

On other regulatory issues, the latest SNAFU that just went FUBAR was the alleged ATF sting operation at the U.S./Mexico border, which allowed straw purchasers who had been identified by dealers per their legal obligation and turned over to ATF for instruction, to purchase thousands of modern weapons and smuggle them to Mexico. Lives have been lost, damage is done, let’s hope that the government gets this mess cleaned up and puts stops in place to keep that from happening ever again.

- Dan

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V14N9 (June 2011)
and was posted online on November 1, 2011


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