Industry News
By Robert M. Hausman

Melson Blames Staff for ‘Fast & Furious’

In a confidential deposition with congressional investigators, the then-head of ATF Kenneth E. Melson blamed agents, field supervisors and even his top command for never advising him that for more than a year his agency allowed illegal gun sales along the southwestern U.S. border The Los Angeles Times reports.

The deposition, which was taken in July, shows that Kenneth E. Melson was irate. Even his chief intelligence officer at ATF headquarters was upset with the operation, dubbed Fast and Furious, but did little to shut it down, Melson complained. "He didn't come in and tell me, either," Melson said. "And he's on the same damn floor as I am."

But B. Todd Jones, Melson's replacement as acting director of the agency, said in an interview that Melson allowed overzealous field agents and supervisors to go beyond approved tactics. Pointing out that the ATF has had five acting directors in the last six years; Jones said the resulting weak management structure has given some field agents a license to operate independently of Washington.

“There was a vacuum. Fast and Furious went off the rails, and there were plenty of opportunities to pivot so none of this would happen,” Jones said.

Under the program, devised to help agents follow weapons from gun stores to Mexican cartel leaders, about 2,000 firearms were lost. Two were found after the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Hundreds more were recovered after violent crimes in Mexico

“Anybody, including Mr. Melson, who waits for things to happen or waits for information to come to them, that is something I personally am not a believer in,” Jones said. “I'm a believer in management by walking around. If you're not hearing it, you seek it out. And there are a lot of ways to do that other than sitting in your corner office waiting for memos to come in.”

Melson was transferred to a lower-level job at the Department of Justice on Aug. 30. Jones, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, was appointed by Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. as the new acting director.

At Holder's request, the Justice Department's inspector general began investigating Fast and Furious in February, a month after the controversial operation in the ATF's Phoenix field office came to light.

Jones expects the inspector general's report this year. He said he will immediately refer it to the ATF's Office of Professional Responsibility for recommendations on job terminations or suspensions. “We sure will” be making some quick personnel decisions, he said.

Jones has visited about a fourth of the ATF's 25 field offices, and has brought in six new top managers. He said he is also working closely with Justice officials who oversee the ATF. “It's been tough on people, tough on morale. And yet I think we are pulling the car out of the ditch.”

“Things Will Get Ugly”

In his deposition, Melson said that the lack of management oversight went beyond his own agency to the Justice Department. Once Fast and Furious broke into public view, Melson said, Justice officials strenuously objected when he wanted to disclose everything to Congress. “We were floating the idea and asking them to allow us to do that,” he said. But he said he was told “it is a long-standing policy of the Department of Justice that we don't talk about ongoing cases.” Justice officials said they were never told about the Fast and Furious tactics and cite ATF internal emails as evidence.

Hours after Terry was killed south of Tucson, David J. Voth, the ATF group supervisor for Fast and Furious in Phoenix, sent an email to lead Agent Hope A. MacAllister. He titled the email, "no more rose colored glasses."

“If you have not heard, a Border Patrol agent was shot and killed here in Arizona,” he told her. “The trace came back to Fast and Furious…Ugh...! Call as soon as you can, things will most likely get ugly.”

Two Issues to Watch

Machine Gun Transfer and Possession Restrictions: ATF has recently ruled in private letters that transfers of machine guns between federally licensed manufacturers and Special (Occupational) Taxpayers are permissible only when such transfers are “to or by” a federal, state or local government agency, pursuant to Section 922(o) of the Gun Control Act. This could have a significant impact on manufacturing operations, including those for our foreign allies. According to the unpublished ATF decisions, the government exception in Section 922(o) refers only to domestic government agencies. Consequently, a contract with a foreign government cannot authorize machine gun transfers between FFL/SOT manufacturers.

Export Control Reform: This is an ongoing effort by the Obama Administration to reform and improve export controls. Exactly how such reforms will impact the firearms export trade, however, remains to be seen, but it should be noted that the State and Commerce Departments have already begun reviewing Categories I and III of the United States Munitions List (firearms to .50 caliber and ammunition, respectively).

Felon’s Suit Dismissed

The Massachusetts Appellate Court has upheld a trial court's decision to dismiss a case involving an ex-con who stole a homeowner's firearm and accidentally shot and killed himself with it. The administrator of the ex-con's estate attempted to sue both the homeowner and Glock. The case was dismissed under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

Record Number of Brady Checks in 2011

In January, the FBI reported that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) performed a record number of background checks in 2011. Over 99 percent of NICS checks are firearm-related.

NICS became operational in November 1998, replacing the Brady Act’s waiting period on dealer sales of handguns, imposed in 1993. The anti-gun Brady Campaign, then known as Handgun Control, Inc., strongly objected to Congress’ adoption of the NICS amendment to the so-called Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, otherwise known as the Brady bill, in 1993. Curiously, however, today the Brady Campaign praises NICS for conducting what the group hypocritically refers to as “Brady checks,” in the hope of convincing Congress to require such checks on all private transfers of firearms.

The FBI’s annual NICS reports show that gun sales are steadily rising, undermining anti-gun activists’ periodic boast that gun ownership is declining.

After averaging almost nine million checks annually through 1995, NICS checks rose to 10 million in 1996 and climbed steadily to 14.4 million in 2010. Between 2010 and 2011, NICS checks rose 14 percent to 16.4 million, their greatest annual increase since the program’s inception. If the monthly checks that Kentucky conducts on carry permit holders are excluded from the tally, NICS checks rose approximately 18 percent to approximately 14 million in 2011.

CCW Permits Not Grandfathered in Nevada

On January 6, ATF informed the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association that they would NOT be grandfathering concealed carry weapons (CCW) permit holders whose permits were either granted or renewed on or before July 1, 2011, from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for firearm purchases.

The Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association sent a letter to ATF requesting that CCW permit holders who had received their permits prior to the July 1, 2011 enactment date of Assembly Bill 282, be allowed to enjoy the NICS exemption retroactively, provided a background check was conducted upon renewal. This exemption was requested since all seventeen county sheriffs wee in compliance with the standard by BATFE long before AB 282 went into effect and the sheriffs provided sworn affidavits to the BATFE stating that every permit issued in the past five years was NICS compliant.

Unfortunately, that request was denied by the ATF, leaving July 1, 2011 as the “dividing line” effective date. For those pre-July 1st permit holders who would like to enjoy the NICS exemption earlier than their renewal date, please contact your county Sheriff and request they issue a permit renewal prior to the 120-day policy currently required for renewals.

New Light Ball May Replace Flash Bang Grenades

The DELTA Light Ball has a polycarbonate super-bright strobe effect and steady-light illuminator that initially dazzles and confuses the bad guys and then lights up the target area like daylight.

Unlike flash bang grenades, the tough DELTA Light Ball can even be thrown directly through most glass windows.

Once deployed, the DELTA Light Ball emits a high-energy 400 lumen strobe effect for three flashes and then stays on to constantly illuminate the target area with four powerful LEDs.

The DELTA Light Ball is designed for safe distraction, confusion and final illumination of threats not needing the effects of flash bang grenades; especially effective if several light balls are utilized. And of course DELTA Light Balls can be combined with flash bangs in various situations.

For building searches, aircraft, stairwells or outdoor use (trees, bushes, tunnels, boats, even vehicles, etc.) the DELTA Light Ball can be employed at a safe standoff distance without the officer having to use his target indicating personal or weapon mounted flashlight to search for threats. The DELTA may even come in handy for certain types of rescue operations.

The DELTA Light Ball is available from River Rock Designs, Inc., 900 RR 620 South, Suite C101-223, Austin, TX, 78734.

The author publishes two of the small arms industry’s most widely read trade newsletters. The International Firearms Trade covers the world firearms scene, and The New Firearms Business covers the domestic market. Visit www.FirearmsGroup.com. He may be reached at: FirearmsB@aol.com.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review SAW (April 2012)
and was posted online on February 24, 2012


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