Videos of law enforcement agents knocking on doors to question residents about firearms or gun parts they may have purchased are causing alarm in the Second Amendment community online.
Aidan Johnston, director of Federal Affairs for Gun Owners of America (GOA), said such encounters have the ingredients for a Ruby Ridge/Waco-type tragedy.
“This is an armed confrontation with an armed citizen,” Johnston said.
In two videos reviewed by The Epoch Times on May 15, armed people clad in body armor identified as Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) agents and police officers ask residents about firearms or components they allegedly purchased. The officers are friendly and tell the residents they will be on their way as soon as they can inspect or confiscate the items.
They repeatedly tell the residents they aren’t in trouble and have done nothing wrong.
In one video, agents ask the resident if he has purchased a forced reset trigger (FRT). This is an aftermarket device to increase a rifle’s rate of fire. The ATF has ruled that the device is a prohibited machine gun under the National Firearms Act of 1934.
In “Operation Reticent Recall,” ATF sent letters to FRT owners to turn them over to the ATF or provide proof they had been destroyed.
The ATF did not return a call seeking comment. It is not clear how it got information on who purchased the items. There is some speculation that the ATF pressured one or more online vendors who sold the triggers.
In a second video, a man identifies himself as a police officer working with the ATF. The man tells the homeowner that he has proof that the homeowner recently purchased multiple guns in one transaction. This is sometimes evidence of an illegal straw purchase, in which a person buys a gun for someone who cannot legally own a firearm.
The officer in the video asks to see the guns the resident allegedly bought. Johnston said these are only two videos of which he has been made aware. He added that there are likely others that weren’t recorded.
“It’s concerning to see these videos pop up. But for each video, there may be 100 others,” Johnston said.
Attorneys specializing in the Second Amendment say there are things citizens can do to avoid misunderstandings.
William Kirk is president of Washington Gun Law, based in Washington state. He said the first thing any gun owner should do is research the law. Citizens must know their legal rights when speaking with any law enforcement agency.
Kirk said that if police have a search warrant, most niceties will be dispensed with, and the agents will get to work.
“At that time, stand aside, the game is over; they will execute that warrant,” Kirk said.
Attorney Dillon Harris agreed. Harris is a lawyer with the Pennsylvania-based Civil Rights Defense Firm.
Like Kirk, he said that if the agents have a search warrant, arguing your case will only make matters worse.
“If they have a search warrant, you can’t prevent them from searching,” Harris said.
Both men said it’s important to be cooperative and polite. They said to get the agent’s name and contact information and to let them know you can’t answer any questions without an attorney.
“You shouldn’t speak to any law enforcement in any context without an attorney,” Harris said. “Especially the ATF.”
Harris added that a search warrant only gives them the authority to search as outlined in the warrant.
The person named on the warrant is not obligated to do more than allow the search to happen.
“Even with a warrant, you don’t have to speak with them other than to say you won’t speak without an attorney,” Harris said.
However, in the online videos, the agents don’t have a warrant. In that situation, law enforcement’s authority is minimal.
“They will not have any legal authority unless you give it to them,” Kirk said.
And they will try to get it.
According to Kirk, there are four exceptions to the search warrant requirement. The first and most common exception is consent. The property owner gives the officer permission.
Next is probable cause or exigent circumstances. This applies when the officer can show a reasonable basis for believing a crime has been committed or evidence of a crime is present.
The other two exceptions are when evidence is abandoned, such as when it is thrown out with household trash. Or if the evidence is in plain sight.
“If they’re asking to look at your firearms, it means they don’t have any legal authority to do it. You may politely decline,” Kirk said.
Always Get Legal Counsel
Kirk reiterated Harris’ point about getting legal counsel.
“Your voluntary participation without the advice of counsel will do you no good,” he said.
Both lawyers are aware of the situation concerning forced reset triggers. Both have clients who have received letters from or been visited by the ATF. Kirk said it appears that the agency is focusing on the company that manufactured the triggers. None of his clients have been arrested or charged.
He said anyone who owns an FRT and gets a letter from the ATF should remove the FRT from their rifle and immediately contact an attorney. If you own an FRT but have not received a letter, the FRT should be removed from the rifle and destroyed.
Kirk recommended making a digital record of the destruction, including video and photos. The record should be copied, with one copy kept by the owner and the other held by an attorney. He said a digital copy would show the item and have a record of the date and time it was destroyed.
Anyone who has already destroyed their FRT but has no record of that should contact a lawyer if they receive a letter from the ATF.
Johnston said Gun Owners of America is working to change the law so that people don’t have to worry about government agencies writing and changing laws with no congressional authority.
He said gun owners must become politically active. Johnston said most of the gun laws being enforced are unconstitutional. But nothing will change unless citizens stand up for the Second Amendment.
“Gun owners need to get active, and they need to fight,” Johnston said. “You have to be active. You have to be vocal.”