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Blackwater in Trouble

Looks like they did a number of things in violation of the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act of 1968:

Blackwater officials enticed the local sheriff’s office to pose as the purchaser of 34 automatic weapons that would be stored on the company’s campus, something prosecutors called a straw purchase, according to the indictment. The Camden County Sheriff’s Office provided blank letterhead to the company, which then used the stationery to prepare letters ordering weapons.

They probably figured they were safe, since they had the local LEOs on board with their scheme and were cozy with the Bush Administration. Personally, I would go to jail for doing this, so I don’t think there should be exceptions. The law is the law.

Prosecutors also focused on Blackwater’s supply of short-barrel rifles, which dealers must register. The company purchased 227 short barrels and installed them on long rifles without registering them, and officials shipped the weapons with the barrels detached so that they could be reassembled overseas without facing the charge of exporting regulated weapons, according to the indictment.

Sounds like they bought a bunch of M4 uppers and put them on unregistered AR-15 lowers, which is definitely a no no. Even having them together is constructive possession. If you have an M4 upper, you better have a registered lower to go along with it. I’m sure that makes operating a private armory difficult, since you need spare parts, but that’s how ATF interprets the law for me. Corporations shouldn’t get a pass.

In a 2008 interview with the AP, Jackson and other Blackwater executives said the company provided the local Camden County sheriff’s office a place to store weapons, calling the gesture a “professional courtesy.”

“We gave them a big safe so that they can store their own guns,” Jackson said at the time. Added then-executive vice president Bill Mathews: “We give stuff to police departments all over the country, and we take particularly good care of our home police departments.”

It’s going to be an interesting case, for sure. Can a police agency contract out storage of their NFA stuff to a private third party? If they can, can the private third party use them for their own purposes? Does letterhead abuse amount to an illegal straw purchase? I can understand why Blackwater might have thought that the federal gun laws were a real problem for their business model, and I’m sympathetic to that argument, but the proper course of action is to lobby Congress to change the law, not to break it and hope for the best.

Hat tip to Dave Hardy.

13 Responses to “Blackwater in Trouble”

  1. countertop says:

    This has all the making of a great supreme court case.

  2. Turk Turon says:

    Interesting parallels to the Albany PD case of a few years back, which seems to have been quietly swept under the rug. In that case, individual officers were buying machine guns through their police department. As I recall, the scheme unraveled when one of the cops died and his widow took his guns to a local gunshop for sale/consignment/appraisal. The dealer practiced due diligence and found that one of the guns, a full-auto, was said by the ATF to be the property of the Albany PD. Nothing more in the media after that.

  3. Earl Harding says:

    Negative on constructive possesion of a short barrel in conjunction with an AR lower. Please cite a case where constructive possesion has been used for a short barrel.

    This canard is always repeated.

    There are non-NFA reasons for possesing a barrel less than 16″. It is nothing more than a spare pistol barrel.

    A full auto sear on the other hand has no lawful purpose outside of NFA, hence the BATFE can get away with constructive possesion.

  4. Sebastian says:

    There are plenty of them out there. The most famous was US v. Thomson Center Arms. What Thompson said was that if you had, say, an short barreled upper on an AR-15 pistol, you couldn’t get nailed because you had an AR-15 rifle lower that you could, conceivably put into an illegal configuration. The Court didn’t decide, in Thompson that all constructive possession cases were problematic.

    That’s not to say every constructive possession case is a guaranteed win, but there’s still a theory of prosecution that Thompson left open if the combination of parts couldn’t be used in anything but an illegal configuration:

    We also think that a firearm is “made” on facts one step removed from the paradigm of the aggregated parts that can be used for nothing except assembling a firearm. Two courts to our knowledge have dealt in some way with claims that when a gun other than a firearm was placed together with a further part or parts that would have had no use in association with the gun except to convert it into a firearm, a firearm was produced. See United States v. Kokin, 365 F. 2d 595, 596 (CA3 1966) (carbine together with all parts necessary to convert it into a machinegun is a machinegun), cert. denied, 385 U.S. 987 (1966); see also United States v. Zeidman, 444 F. 2d 1051, 1053 (CA7 1971) (pistol and attachable shoulder stock found “in different drawers of the same dresser” constitute a short barreled rifle). Here it is true, of course, that some of the parts could be used without ever assembling a firearm, but the likelihood of that is belied by the utter uselessness of placing the converting parts with the others except for just such a conversion. Where the evidence in a given case supports a finding of such uselessness, the case falls within the fair intendmentof “otherwise producing a firearm.” See 26 U.S.C. § 5845(i).

    So constructive possession in the case of SBRs isn’t as broad as for machine guns, but there’s still constructive possession arguments that can be made, if Blackwater had lots of SBR uppers, and lots of unregistered lowers, and did not have a large compliment of other legal configurations they could be used for. They still have a pretty good defense, in that they run an armory, but the Government’s case is plausible, depending on circumstances.

  5. Rob K says:

    I’d like to see ATF raid Blackwater. :-) That would be good fun.

  6. Sebastian says:

    Given that Blackwater has a lot of former special operations guys and Navy Seals, my bet would be on Blackwater :)

  7. Dixie says:

    I’d like to see ATF raid Blackwater. :-) That would be good fun.

    If by “fun” you mean “epic.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Blackwater had a few 105mm howitzers squirreled away somewhere…

  8. Tam says:

    So constructive possession in the case of SBRs isn’t as broad as for machine guns, but there’s still constructive possession arguments that can be made, if Blackwater had lots of SBR uppers, and lots of unregistered lowers, and did not have a large compliment of other legal configurations they could be used for.

    The type of FFL Blackwater had could be important here. If they had an 07, they could argue that the parts were for the eventual manufacture of SBRs. If no, then not so much.

  9. Dave R. says:

    I’d like to see ATF raid Blackwater. :-) That would be good fun.

    Rob K wins the internet!

  10. JR Richardson says:

    “This has all the making of a great supreme court case.”

    ^ this.

    A lot of speculation in that article also. I would be interested to see the indictment and any appeals documents. The overall article quoted above smells to me like it was taken in large part from a prosecutor’s press announcement.

    Blackwater has deep pockets. They can afford to fight this. I hope they do, as ‘constructive possession’ is clearly not going to hold up to a challenge in my opinion.

  11. Earl Harding says:

    Sebastian, your own sentence proves my point:

    but there’s still a theory of prosecution that Thompson left open if the combination of parts couldn’t be used in anything but an illegal configuration:

    A full auto sear can only be used in an illegal combination, hence constructive possesion is possible for something that would result in an automatic rifle.

    The thompson case effectively shut down the SBR constructive possesion argument, at least in my reading. Otherwise every smith who bought a 14.5″ barrel then affixed a long flash hider in the approved manner and test fired the upper is involved in the illegal and non-taxed manufacture of an SBR.

    I guess we will just have to differ on this.

  12. Sebastian says:

    ATF has interpreted Thompson very narrowly. More narrowly than I think is warranted by the opinion. But Thompson didn’t categorically rule out constructive possession. It does make it much harder to prosecute. But the ATF is going to try.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there really ought to be constructive possession with SBRs, but the Court in Thompson seems to me to have left the door open to some types of constructive possession cases. Maybe not as described in this Indictment, but we’ll see what happens when it goes to court.

  13. Ian Argent says:

    I wonder who polluted the prosecutor’s Cheerios?

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