Prior to July 7, 2003, I would never have asked myself that question.
Now I find myself reflecting back to that day when I ponder, "How
in the world did this mess get started?".
I am a Federally licensed firearms manufacturer. As a responsible
member of my industry I always worked closely with the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). I had always encountered
good people at the local Atlanta field office. Very professional,
very prompt, and yes even courteous.
As a manufacturer I am not required to submit any sample to ATF for
review. I submit samples to be completely open and transparent, and
most of all, to verify compliance with all federal laws. I do not
ever wish to make or sell an illegal product.
On July 7th, 2003 I called Sterling Nixon, Chief of the ATF Firearms
Technology Branch (FTB), to ask the status of a classification of
one of my company's products. To my shock, this guy acted like a hot
head. He immediately told me about being too busy to deal with a "nobody"
and hung up.
I had spoken with his boss on a previous occasion, and still had
his number. I called him and asked, "What's with the new guy
(Sterling Nixon)? Mr. Nixon called me a short time later and warned
me to never ever go "over his head" again. He clearly explained
that criminal cases always take precedence over submission samples
at FTB, and FTB was very busy dealing with some federal cases. He
went to say FTB serves every single Federal Court by classifying firearm-related
evidence as firearm, machine gun, short barrel rifle, etc.
I eventually received my classification letter on the product from
the FTB about a month later. However, the letter was an obvious "cut
and paste" job from a previous letter that ATF had sent to my
company and was full of errors (as it described a different rifle).
I promptly notified the FTB of those errors. I was again told because
of the high load of criminal cases that their mistake on my submission
must have "fallen through the cracks." I was asked to make
corrections in the margin and fax it to FTB so they could write a
revised classification letter. I did so. Later I received a revised
letter -- that I had essentially written myself.
I became very concerned with other errors the ATF/FTB was making
on submitted samples. How many innocent people may have had their
evidence in criminal cases "fall through the cracks" if
FTB was under a large caseload? Would the agency take short cuts with
submitted product samples or worse, with evidence in criminal trials?
I was soon to find out. The situation was worse than I -- or anyone
-- could have imagined.
Among other things, I was more than a little curious as to how ATF/FTB
conducted examinations on firearms used as evidence in Federal Court.
Around this time, I was asked by defense attorney Monroe Whitesides,
Esq. to examine a rifle the FTB had declared to be a machine gun in
the case of US v Glover. Mr. Whitesides received permission to document
the tests and my examination of the rifle in question, which we did
using videotape. Only later would we understand how important that
video was to be.
The day of the test came and it revealed that Mr. Glover, the defendant,
had indeed "fallen through the cracks" at FTB. And that's
describing the situation charitably. Firing tests and my examination
of the rifle's mechanisms showed that the firearm was not an "illegal
machine gun" at all, but a malfunctioning semiautomatic. Any
expert who disassembled the rifle would have immediately discovered
this. The FTB's "expert" admitted on tape that he had never
examined the rifle's inner workings, and yet he and his agency were
willing, even eager, to turn the rifle's owner into a felon! The
video document prevented an innocent citizen from being imprisoned.
I shared my growing concerns with ATF during conference calls with
both ATF management, and FTB management. I was knocked speechless
one day (and brother that is HARD to do), by the revelation of both
the Chief and the Assistant Chief of FTB that no documented procedures
ever existed for testing firearms! They went on to tell me they design
the test of a submitted "evidence" on a case by case basis.
In other words, they make procedures up as they go along. (And many
of those procedures, as we shall see below and as I have written elsewhere,
are simply outrageous.) The lack of documented scientific procedure
has been confirmed by Congressional
Research Service investigation. There is no documented scientific
testing procedures for firearms evidence in Federal Court!
The firearms "experts" from FTB will look official testifying
in court in their three-piece suits. They will have impressive titles.
They will sound technically knowledgeable. In short they will carry
great influence with judges and a jury (after all they are from the
government). I have seen it first hand, it IS impressive.
But it is simply an illusion. Nothing but smoke and mirrors.
With no testing standard, no use of scientific method, what is to
keep ATF agents from modifying the firearm, then declaring a legal
semiautomatic to be "readily restorable" to the status of
"illegal machine gun"? In fact, they have done this.
I have also seen an "expert" declare -- with a straight
face -- that a lump of steel that is incapable of firing anything
is a machinegun because of unspecified "machinegun features and
FTB "experts" have even added external and internal conversion
devices to legal semi-auto rifles during testing, then claimed that
that the firearm was -- because of these ATF additions -- an "illegal
machine gun." (The ATF-added devices are by law machineguns in
and of themselves, because they when installed, allow a host firearm
to fire full auto as a machinegun.) ATF "experts" have done
this in full view of the entire court! In the case of US v Wrenn,
for instance (another case in which I acted as an expert for the defense)
FTB personnel did not take their conversion devices off prior to coming
Apparently I had enraged the ATF so greatly by the time of the Wrenn
case that a few months later the agency declared one of my company's
products to be "illegal contraband" and a "machinegun."
The ATF had classified this device as a "non firearm" nine
months earlier. I had been in production for months after receiving
the "non-firearm" classification. Now suddenly -- for no
reason other than spite -- my product was illegal. My investment was
wasted. I was in jeopardy of becoming a criminal. Had I sold the device
to any customers, they also would have been in danger of being declared
The re-classification was obviously done to teach me a lesson for
showing up at court cases
With my living and my freedom in jeopardy, I felt compelled to notify
the United States Federal District Court of ATF malfeasance and to
notify the Department of Justice, as well. This harassment of me and
my livelihood is unacceptable behavior on the part of ANY federal
Unfortunately, the result of my protest was predictable: The Department
of Justice (of which the ATF is a subsidiary) claimed to have investigated
itself. It found itself faultless.
Years after I first began asking questions, the FTB still does not
have a documented firearms testing procedure. Today, defense attorneys
use the Congressional Research Service report to demonstrate the ATF's
lack of credibility. And -- no surprise -- prosecution of "mystery
machinegun" crimes have dropped drastically. This is a good thing
for justice. For years, too many innocent people were railroaded into
Unfortunately my own circumstances are less bright. The ATF has forbidden
me to contact it in any way other that written correspondence. This
puts me at a disadvantage to all my competitors, who may still freely
call the agency to ask questions. But that's not the worst. The agency
has managed to "lose" many of my letters. They have not
seen fit to answer some of my correspondence for 14 months. I am for
all purposes shut down by the US Government. They have done this by
bureaucratic fiat and bad faith. They have shut down my business and
destroyed my livelihood without cause or court order, without the
due process allegedly guaranteed by that same government.
Am I now an enemy of United States Government?
Historic Arms LLC