On Wednesday, February 15, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security heard testimony from individuals affected by heavy-handed enforcement tactics of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) at a gun show in Richmond, Virginia last August.
According to the gun show organizer, Annette Gelles of Showmasters, dozens of BATFE and local law enforcement officers intrusively questioned dealers and customers, tried to discourage people from buying guns, and stopped show attendees on the roads after they left. In some cases, customers’ lawfully purchased guns were confiscated, and returned only when the customers visited BATFE’s office for more questioning. In other cases, local police officers visited gun buyers’ homes to conduct “residency checks”—intrusive questioning of family members and even neighbors.
One show visitor, James Lalime, a private citizen who sometimes works for a dealer at the local gun shows, testified that he was interrogated by BATFE and other law enforcement personnel who accused him of dealing in firearms without a license. John White, a show exhibitor, licensed dealer, and former police officer, testified that he appreciates law enforcement officials’ efforts to prevent illegal sales, but that enforcement activities went too far—especially in focusing on buyers who were women or members of minority groups. Suzanne McComas, an investigator for NRA-ILA, also testified and provided sworn affidavits from individuals who were singled out for BATFE attention, apparently on the basis of race or sex.
The subcommittee members were upset with what they heard. Subcommittee Chairman Howard Coble (R-NC) questioned whether the operations were “a proper allocation of resources,” and suggested that “49 law enforcement officers could have found a better way to curb criminal activity in the Richmond area.” Over the next few months, the same subcommittee expects to hold additional oversight hearings on this and other BATFE activities, including both citizen witnesses and BATFE officials. Watch the Grassroots Alert for more details as they’re available.
If you missed Wednesday’s hearing, you can view it in its entirety at http://judiciary.house.gov/oversight.aspx?ID=214