A Visit from the ATF: How would you handle it?

Ever thought about how you’d handle a visit from the ATF? Until recently, I’d been mercifully free from that particular bit of foreboding, but that changed last week when I received a call from a friend of mine about a gun.

The gift…

A few years and one marriage ago, I purchased a gun as a gift for my then-wife. She’d bought a Springfield XD in .45 ACP and then decided it was “too much gun” for her. Myself, I’d rather shoot .45 than anything but to (try and) keep peace on the home front, I bought her the gun of her dreams – a Springer with a 3” barrel, chambered in .40 Smith & Wesson. Different strokes, but don’t get me started about the relative merits and recoil on a .45 versus .40.

Springfield XD 40.Some time later, the rector of our Episcopal church told us a story about how he’d left his Glock in his vehicle and how the gun had been stolen. He expressed a preference for polymer guns, and I, in turn regaled him with my preference for the XDs over Gaston Glock’s finest.  At this point my neighborhood priest asked if he could buy one of my significant other’s weapons.  He also said that he preferred buying his guns through secondary sales to avoid tipping off the ATF or any other government agencies that he’s a gun owner.

Much to my surprise, my then-wife offered to sell him her .40, choosing instead to keep the .45 (go figure). He bought it, and I typed up a semi-official-looking Bill of Sale for both of us. He was thrilled with the gun, and my ex was thrilled to sell a gun she didn’t want.  So far, so good.

…that keeps on giving

Fast forward three years, give or take.

I get a message from my friend, the priest. “You know that Springfield XD you sold me? I left it locked up in my trunk and took my car in for servicing. Somebody stole it out of my trunk.”

Well, color me not a happy camper, but then I stopped to think – A) it’s not my problem any longer, because B) my ex is maniacal about record-keeping, and she has a copy of the Bill of Sale. If some scumbag commits a crime with the gun, she has the paperwork to prove that we’re in the clear, having sold the weapon years ago. So I called the Woman-Formerly-Known-As-Mrs. Kozak and gave her the news.

Problem. After we got through the obligatory tongue lashing, she explained that she’s finally getting around to selling the house she won in the lottery claimed in the divorce, and all the papers had been packed in boxes. Not good.  Additionally, she seemed, shall we say, reticent, to go a-digging for them. Double not good.

Then, a miracle occurred (or so I thought). My buddy called me: “Good news! After the police interviewed the garage owner and the mechanic, the owner suddenly found the gun in a rag bag in the shop!” Land O’Goshen! I wonder how the gun walked over to the bag.  (Insert Fast and Furious joke here). My buddy was so delighted at the news, he called the local constable, before trotting over to retrieve his pistol.

Whoops

Bad move on his part. The police beat him over to the mechanics’ and impounded the gun. When he discovered this, he played telephone roulette with Houston’s Finest, only to finally learn that had he but retrieved the gun before calling the police, his troubles (and mine) would be over. As they got to the gun first, now he would have to prove to their satisfaction – and to the ATF’s, I might add – that the gun is really his.

ATF logo.Now of course, I would have expected a guy who’d had one gun stolen from a car to be extra careful with gun number two. I’d at least expect him to put the Bill of Sale in a safe place, in case of emergency. And I’d be wrong. Lost the gun and the Bill of Sale. And then he drops the bomb on me: The ATF wants to talk to you, so you can confirm you bought the gun from a dealer and sold it to me.

Yeah, that’s just how I want to spend my time, thinking about the ATF knocking on my door to have a little chat. Perrrrfect. Not only am I not a huge fan of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, I’ve also been known to share my thoughts about them (and their boss, Eric Holder), in some very public forums. Now we all know about the First Amendment right to Free Speech, but just because I can legally say something, doesn’t make it a great idea, in so far as I’m sure as a gun writer I’ve ruffled at least a couple of feathers over in ATFville from time to time.

Now understand, I’ve got nothing to hide here. And unless I get unlucky enough to get a visit from the faction within the ATF that’s trying to live up to that “jack-booted thug” meme, all this interview will accomplish is to make me fret over a big, fat nothin.’ I bought the gun legally, as a gift. Some time later, the gift receiver decided that she wanted to sell it. That’s legal, too and we wrote out a Bill of Sale, just to document everything. But the two people I trusted with those documents both somehow lost track of them, leaving me open to a call from the ATF about a gun that was never really mine in the first place.  That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Paper trails

One of the many things that irritated my ex was my tendency (read, habit) of never throwing anything away that might someday be useful and this fortunately extends to documents and filing. In particular, I really don’t ever delete files I think might, possibly be useful and such is the case of the original Bill of Sale for the .45 when I bought it for my ex. Now it took me digging for some hours through a bunch of backup disks (making me at times sorely tempted to “recreate” the Bill of Sale, I will admit) but nothing quite compares to the real thing, and when I found it, the relief was indescribable. I believe in obeying the law, even if my opinions on tactics differ from the agency sworn to uphold those laws.

So the good news, is I’m covered.  The ordeal isn’t over, but I’m confident that I can answer any question thrown at me.  But it’s really got me to thinking, if the ATF is going to do something as verifiably dumb as Fast and Furious, and as demonstrably outside the law, should I really feel as if I’m not gonna get hassled over this, even when I had nothing to do with it? So I ask you, have you ever thought about what you would do if you knew you were going to get a visit from the ATF?

 

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