Ever since I read David Brin’s book A Transparent Society, I’ve become a big advocate of more transparency in government, and a big advocate of proliferating the tools that allow it. I’m going to second David Codrea’s call for more of that, in regards to the activities of the BATFE. More light shining in the crevices of government is nearly always a good thing. We can’t remain a free society without an active citizenry scrutinizing government.
But that said, I think we need to be careful about how we go about it, and with that in mind, I do take exception with some of David’s rhetoric:
I repeat my call for a rapid response team of “minuteman” volunteers to make themselves available via a phone tree to go to gun stores being audited, and audit/document/photograph the auditors. Don’t let creatures of the shadows hide there–expose them to the light and make them live there–or cravenly slink back under the baseboards where they belong. You can also help by spreading the link to this post to fellow gun owners and letting them know what is going on. BATFU is relying on people remaining uninformed and apathetic.
I don’t disagree at all with the sentiment, but minuteman evokes images of people showing up with guns, ready to do battle. It’s important to note that the problem at the ATF is cultural, and it goes beyond those on the ground, or any one agent or auditor. The ATF, as an organization, is broken, needs to be abolished or reformed, and the agents who fail to respect the kind of power they wield, need to be moved to other lines of work. But we should treat individuals in the ATF as just that. They may be part of the cultural problems, or they may just be doing a job. I would not discourage anyone from shining the light on their activities; that’s important to maintaining a free society.
Under general principles of law a compliance inspection must be “reasonable” in terms of time, duration, scope, number of inspectors, lack of disruption to your business, etc. If the inspector is reasonable and professional, you should be too. The process does not have to be adversarial or antagonistic. If the inspector is not reasonable or professional, keep in mind that your license does not require you to talk to him, or to provide him access to your copy machine, rest room, etc.
If you decide to peek in on a compliance inspection, introduce yourself. Be civil. Explain yourself to them if they ask. Sure, they might be boneheads back to you, but let them, and then let everyone know about it. That’s the big reason I have Red’s on the blogroll. His story needs to be out there, and I think he’s doing us all a service by telling the world about his experience.
That many ATF auditors and agents are decent people doing a job shouldn’t excuse the vendetta against Red’s. That’s part of the cultural problem. But if we’re to achieve a political solution, we must be careful about how we proceed. We must seem reasonable, and interested in a political solution. I’d rather fight the ATF politically in Congress, and people on the ground will be invaluable in that struggle. But for the people who have to deal with the ATF on a regular basis, I’d worry that turning up the rhetoric too much would just make things worse, and make us look like a bunch of pissed off miscreants to Congress, not to be listened to, or considered.