Friday, July 20, 2007

Boo, Frickin' Hoo!

The ATF & me

By Steve Bailey, Globe Columnist | July 20, 2007

There is an epidemic of handgun violence in Boston's poorest neighborhoods, and the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating me?

Consider this my confession. I plead guilty to offending the loony gun lobby.

In the likely event you missed this alleged story, here are the facts. You be the judge.

Twenty months ago, a lifetime in columnist time, I wrote in this space about going to a gun show in New Hampshire. The idea was to see how easy it would be to buy a handgun just across the border from Massachusetts, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. The answer: not very hard at all.

I went with John Rosenthal, the Boston gun-control advocate the gun lobby loves to hate, a cop named Andrew Heggie, and a former prison guard, Walter Belair. I also took my kids, who got in free. The cereal makers may be cutting back on marketing to kids, but the gun industry knows it is never to early to target the next generation.

We shopped till we dropped. Someone beat us to the used grenade launcher (price: $190), but it took Belair, a New Hampshire resident and licensed gun owner, less than 20 minutes to complete the purchase of a trashy little .38-caliber revolver, perfect for a night out in Dorchester. The gun, which retails for $349, was bargain-priced at $240, which I had given to Belair. (And, of course, expensed to the Globe.)

Belair could have bought 100 guns in tax-free, no-limit New Hampshire that day, and I could have put them in my trunk and driven (illegally) home. That was exactly the point I was making. That is not what I did. Belair took the gun with him; I'm afraid of guns.

You would have thought I burned Johnny Pesky's jersey at Fenway Park. I got hundreds of vitriolic e-mails and phone calls from the live free and die bunch. No other column in a decade has approached it for hate mail, and that's saying something. In general, these are exactly the people I'd rather not see armed. In January I wrote about a 14-year-old boy who was gunned down on Bowdoin Street. Not a word of outrage from this crowd.

This was all ancient history until 10 days ago when Rosenthal and I talked about our trip to the gun show on WRKO-AM's "Finneran's Forum," where I am a daily (paid) guest. The loonies went off again. On Wednesday the Second Amendment Foundation issued a press release headlined: "SAF calls for firing of Boston Globe columnist in straw purchase." It asked the ATF to open an investigation.

(It turns out that Alan Gottlieb, the foundation's founder and the guy who thinks I should be fired for unethical conduct, was convicted in 1984 for filing a false tax return, a felony. His right to possess a gun was later restored through an ATF program that gave felons a second chance. Gottlieb says the case should have been a civil matter; he says he settled the case for $18,000. But that's another story.)

Coincidence or not, you decide, two ATF agents and a Manchester, N.H., cop visited Belair at his work the same day. They had a search warrant and a tape of the radio interview. They wanted to know about the gun, Rosenthal, and me. Belair told them the gun was at home; they went there later in the day, and confiscated it. They did give him a receipt.

Jim McNally, a spokesman for the ATF's Boston office, declined to comment.

This is how it works. Intimidation is the stock in trade of the National Rifle Association and all the NRA knock-offs out there. Dare to say we need fewer, not more guns in this country, dare to say we need a uniform system for monitoring gun sales in this country and you become a target to be hunted down. Democrats and Republicans have allowed themselves to be cowed by this one-issue bloc for too long.

The list of what ails America's poor urban neighborhoods is long. Start with the disaster of children bearing children, our scandalous dropout rate, and the drugs that are everywhere. But the flood of guns belongs prominently on that list, too. Count me as a proud member of the gun lobby's hit list.

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at or at 617-929-2902.

(Thanks to Irons in the Fire for the heads up.)