By Mark Anderson
A tyrannical trend has rocked the world of Second Amendment supporters. The oldest still-operating gun store in Idaho, Red’s Trading Post in Twin Falls, is being targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), a relic from the days of Prohibition that is setting its sights on law-abiding firearms sellers, nitpicking over clerical errors to wage a war of attrition.
More troubling still is the fact that this appears to be part of an organized campaign to force gun dealers out of business across the country.
On March 5, 2007, Red’s license to acquire firearms was to be revoked. However, for the time being, in accordance with a federal judge’s injunction in favor of Red’s, the store can continue selling firearms as it has done for the last 71 years. Red’s first opened its doors in 1936, under the management of a great grandfather of Ryan Horsley, a current owner.
U.S. attorneys currently are asking U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to terminate his May 2 injunction that allowed Red’s to continue full operations.
“We’ve spent $70,000 [on legal fees] so far . . . and there’s still no court date,” Horsley told American Free Press on July 11. He believes the ATF and U.S attorneys want to avoid setting a court date since the feds might lose the case and receive unwanted publicity.
Their tactic appears to be: Find clerical glitches, if any, make court filings and exhaust Red’s finances.
“They’re trying to win by attrition,” said Horsley, adding that every legal rebuttal to the citations from each ATF visit costs the store $5,000 to $6,000.
In granting the injunction, Lodge noted: “The ATF speaks of violations found during the inspections of 2000 and 2005, but fails to reveal that additional investigations in 2001 and 2007 revealed no violations or problems.”
He also acknowledged Red’s statement that ATF is exaggerating Red ’s conduct by “double counting” certain violations. The judge also looked at the balance of the ATF’s hardship compared to Red’s hardship and found that the relative hardships tip sharply in the store’s “favor.”
“A 2004 audit by the ATF claims to have uncovered several minor clerical errors. Out of nearly 10,000 firearms transferred between 1996 and 2004, the alleged error rate found was not even a full percentage point. There were no missing firearms, and no willful illegal acts,” notes a statement from Red’s web site.
“This is not just happening to us though and is becoming a common trend throughout the United States.”
Horsley, who said the feds are using a 2005 audit to go after the store, recalled the contradictory and capricious way ATF agents conducted themselves that year.
He explained that he was first told the store’s files should be kept “pretty much alphabetically” but in date-of-purchase chronological order within each letter (A, B C, and so on, according to the buyer’s last name).
Sometime later, ATF agents looked at the same files and did not cite the store with violations.
But during a third inspection, Horsley related that ATF agents told him, “We’re writing you up for not having them in perfect alphabetical order,” meaning that the chronology suddenly no longer matters.
According to Horsley, who worked directly with ATF personnel, the supervisors can overrule the inspectors and re-interpret policies in the process—the very policies used to determine what constitutes a violation.
So the law enforcement agency fiddles with the law, in essence rewriting it to suit its needs at a given time, said Horsley.
He added that when the ATF came in during 2005, the store was cited for not having posters and pamphlets that state handguns are dangerous to children and for not making sure gun buyers indicated their county of residence on government forms used for cataloging firearms purchases.
“We had a 99.6% success rate for the 2005 audit,” Horsley told AFP. He added that another detail raised by ATF agents was whether a box was checked on the forms indicating the type of gun that was purchased (handgun, long gun, or whatever).
One form did not have the box checked. “They searched through 10,000 forms and found one violation of that,” he said. Not having the right literature in the store and the unmarked box on a form prompted agents to designate Red’s as “a threat to public safety,” hence the continuing legal action against the store. Lodge, however, shot back that the store is not a threat to public safety.
A key thing in the law is the word “willful,” said Horsley. The ATF must prove applicable laws were willfully violated as opposed to the few inadvertent oversights and errors that occurred at Red’s.
Some say the ATF, while it seems to just be nitpicking over T’s not crossed and I’s not dotted, is actually engaging in a campaign to close gun stores across the country, especially since other approaches, such as cities and other entities suing gun manufacturers and distributors to pin the blame on them when guns are misused, have not worked.
Horsley cited Violence Policy Center (VPC) figures that showed an 80% decline in the number of new federally licensed firearms dealers from 1994-2005. And the ATF’s own figures, he said, show that between 2001 and 2006 revocations of federal firearms licenses, or FFLs, shot up to a rate six times above the norm.
A March 2006 VPC press release noted: “The number of gun dealers in America has dropped by 190,726 since 1994 according to a new study released . . . by the VPC.
The study found that the number of Type 1 FFLs plummeted 78% from 245,628 in 1994 to 54,902 in 2005.”
The Type 1 FFL is the basic federal license required to sell guns in America.
A competitor in Twin Falls, Blue Lakes Sporting Goods was forced out of business in the same manner; however ATF agent Richard Van Loan never allowed the store to appeal the ATF’s decision. It was not until the urging of Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) that Blue Lakes was allowed to have an appeal, but by then they were in the middle of their “going out of business sale,” Horsley noted.
Red’s Trading Post is at 215 Shoshone St. S., Twin Falls, ID 83301. Phone: 208-733-3546.