Oversight Hearing of
"The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) Part 1: Gun Show Enforcement."
Wednesday, February 15, 2006, 4:30 p.m.
2141 Rayburn House Office Building
House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security
Owner, Showmasters Gun Shows
Colonial Heights, Virginia
Owner, The Gunsmith
ANNETTE GELLES, OWNER, SHOWMASTERS GUN SHOWSBEFORE THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE'S
SUBCOMMITTEE ON CRIME, TERRORISM, AND HOMELAND SECURITY
FEBRUARY 15, 2006
Mr. Chairman my name is Annette Gelles of Showmasters Gun Shows. I would like to provide a brief statement concerning the events surrounding the Richmond Gun Show held on August 13 - 14, 2005 at the Richmond International Raceway.
By way of background, I have been the sole manager and proprietor of Showmasters for 10 years. Showmasters is a family owned business that began as Old Dominion Shows in 1971. My father and mother began the Roanoke Valley Gun Show and Old Dominion Gun Collectors Society 34 years ago. Over the years, we have produced thousands of shows in Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland.
We are a family oriented business with a conservative customer base. We allow no profanity, pornography, explosive or smoke devices so that the show is appropriate for families with children. Many of the exhibitors are retired or active duty military or law enforcement personnel. Many are just average citizens - hobbyists, knife collectors, coin collectors, holster manufacturers, booksellers, and those offering police supplies and accessories.
To ensure the public and exhibitors are safe we check guns at the door to make sure none are loaded and the guns are tied so they are inoperative as they enter the show. We also have exhibitors tie their guns so they are inoperative. We provide security during public hours and through the night.
ATF and other law enforcement personnel have always attended the shows. Not in great numbers like the August, show but we would recognize one or two walking through the shows, usually as customers, but I am sure sometimes conducting official business. They are usually friendly, professional, and not aggressive towards the public or exhibitors.
However, at the Richmond Gun Show on August 13 - 14, 2005, at least 45 law enforcement officers including ATF, Virginia State Police, Henrico County Police and Richmond City Police were assigned to the Show. These officers were acting under ATF's direction and were present in the building on Saturday August 13, 2005. According to Brian Swann, Acting Resident Agent in Charge (A/RAC) with the ATF Richmond area office at the time, and Donna Tate, Virginia State Police (VSP) this was an ATF/Virginia State Police Task Force. I was told by two uniformed Henrico County police officers that at least fourteen Henrico County Police were present on Saturday in plain clothes.
This enormous law enforcement presence was reflected throughout the weekend. 66 marked and unmarked law enforcement vehicles were on the lot at 10:00 AM on Sunday morning. The numbers of Henrico County Police at the main entrance before the fence fluctuated all day, but on average there were two to three vehicles at all times. 400 Henrico County Police and Richmond City Police were assigned "in the field" to assist officers at the show. I understand that there are a total of 475 Henrico County and Richmond City officers. Mr. Chairman, you might ask if the purpose for this operation was explained to me as the show promoter. It was not. Instead, here is what I observed. People were approached and discouraged from purchasing guns, before attempting to purchase they were interrogated and accused of being in the gun business without a license, detained in police vehicles, and gun buyer's homes visited by police and much more.
An example of what happened is as follows: One individual was simply pulled aside from a table in the middle of a purchase and asked by an ATF agent, "What do you want to buy that gun for?" All weekend long people were interrogated in a similar manner at a table in the concession area just outside the ATF Command Post exit door.
Every person who tried to buy a gun at the show had a residency check done, according to Special Agent Swann. The residency check consisted of having a marked police vehicle sent to the purchaser's home to check if the person trying to buy a gun actually lived where their identification indicated (usually a Virginia Drivers License and one other form of identification with a matching address). At this point, the purchaser had not yet been run through the background check and therefore no evidence was present that would indicate the identification presented was incorrect and there was also no way to ascertain if the individual had a criminal record.
As for any real evidence of lawbreakers at the show, here is what we know so far. Two persons with warrants for arrest were identified using NICS, just as they would have been if BATFE had not been there. Normally, the Virginia State Police that are assigned to the show arrest these individuals. One was arrested and one left the building before he could be arrested because of the delay created by the ATF's residency check procedure. We have filed a FOIA request with ATF for more information, but they have yet to release anything substantive to us.
What ATF did achieve was to devastate attendance at the show. Average public attendance is 4,000 persons at the Richmond Gun Show at Richmond International Raceway. I had less than 2,000 in public attendance during August 13 - 14, 2005. We charge $7.00 for admission and that means we lost about $14,000 in admission charges. The November show also had less than 2,000 in public attendance, we strongly believe due to the fears of law-abiding citizens being unnecessarily monitored by their government. The November show usually has 4,500 to 5,000 in public attendance.
The impact on exhibitors was much greater. It is difficult to put a dollar amount on the losses experienced by exhibitors because some sales are as much as $70,000 for one gun or $500 for another. However, we estimate their losses well above $300,000. The good will that exhibitors had established with the community as a safe and responsible way for citizens to sell their guns was destroyed that weekend by the overt police and undercover law enforcement presence. Many exhibitors told me that if this were to happen again that they would not be back.
The ATF / Virginia State Police operation was methodical, systematic, prolonged, and vast. Scrutiny should be placed on why these officers were sent out in imposing numbers to do an operation that was of questionable legality, and certainly offensive to our constitutional freedoms. I want to say that well prior to this chain of events, I personally met with the Special Agent in Charge of the Washington Field Division, and offered, along with my colleague, Steve Elliott of C&E Shows, to work with ATF in a mutually respectful and professional way. To ATF's credit, they followed up on some of our positive suggestions. We believed that we were on the right track to an appropriate and harmonious relationship with the Bureau. I would still like that relationship Mr. Chairman. I am not interested in interfering with their lawful enforcement duties. I respect and honor the sacrifices that many law enforcement officers make on a daily basis for our citizens. However, I found that growing up in a relatively small community that the law enforcement officers that were most honored and highly regarded are those who respect and honor the privacy, constitutional, and property rights of the citizens they are serving. ATF needs to account for what happened, explain to this committee why it will not be repeated, and commit itself to working with the trade for the mutually shared goal of safer communities.
TESTIMONY OF JAMES LALIME
THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON CRIME, TERRORISM,
AND HOMELAND SECURITY
Oversight Hearing of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
and Firearms (ATF) Part 1: Gun Show Enforcement
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
2141 Rayburn House Office Building
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. My name is James Lalime of Colonial Heights, Virginia. It is a great honor for me to be here today at this oversight hearing on the Gun Show Enforcement. I am currently employed by a National gun dealer as a salesman and was present at the Richmond Gun Show August 13 thru the 14th, 2005. As an avid gun enthusiast and shooter, I usually attend as many gun shows as I possibly can. I decided to attend the Richmond gun show to see if I could sell a couple of firearms and parts. Had I known what was going to transpire, I would not have attended the show.
I had been at the gun show for a few hours after selling one antique rifle, a handgun, and a rifle stock. I was looking over some rifle parts at one of the tables, when I was approached by a man who claimed he was an ATF agent, who I later found out was agent Jerad McComas, and a Virginia State Trooper Ingram. At no time did agent McComas show me an identification. Agent McComas said he wished to talk to me and stated that I wasn't being charged with anything, and that he didn't want to make a scene. We, agent McComas, Trooper Ingram, and myself proceeded to walk over to a side by the entrance in the building where the show was being held. Agent McComas again stated that I was not being charged with anything, but began interrogating me.
The first question agent McComas asked me was, "We see you at a lot of gun shows, are you in the business of buying and selling firearms?" To which I answered, "No sir, these are my personal firearms." Again agent McComas said, "well we see you at every gunshow, are you sure you're not buying and selling guns as a business?" And again I told him that these were out of my personal collection. To which agent McComas replied, "Well, because we see you at all the gunshows we think you are, and you should get a business license to do so, it's not that hard!" When I tried to explain to agent McComas the reason they see me at all the shows, might be because I work for a FFL dealer and work at those shows. Agent McComas replied, "Are you walking around at gunshows buying and selling guns for the dealer you work for?' I told him no, that I was there for myself, that I had some guns I didn't shoot and wanted to sell. Again agent McComas insisted that they saw me at, "ALL the gunshows" And again I told him that I worked for an FFL dealer, at gunshows and maybe that's why they see me at every show. Agent McComas again asked if I was there working for the FFL dealer, and again I told him that I was there for myself. This type of round, and round questioning went on for about another 15-20 minutes. At some point, I cut off agent McComas and asked trooper Ingram what he needed me for. He told me that my drivers license had been suspended, and that he needed to issue me a notification of suspension.
Trooper Ingram, agent McComas, and myself, went to my car so I could put a firearm I was carrying into it's case, then went with trooper Ingram to his patrol car. I sat in the front seat of the patrol car as Trooper Ingram wrote up the notification. As he was writing the notification, I asked him what my license had been suspended for. He told me it came up on the computer, as a non-traffic suspension, and couldn't give me any more information. This took approximately 30-40 minutes, during this time agent McComas was continuing his line of interrogation. Asking me how many guns I owned, when was the last time I purchased a gun etc., etc., etc. It got to the point where Trooper Ingram asked agent McComas if he would stop for a moment so he could finish. Trooper Ingram was then able to answer all of my question the best he could, then told me it was okay to get out of the patrol car. As I was stepping out of the Patrol car agent McComas immediately continued with his interrogation, with the same line of questioning as before, over and over. As soon as I received the notification fo suspension form Trooper Ingram, I told agent McComas if I wasn't being charged with anything then I must be free to go, and left. I later learned that the suspension of my divers license, was due to a state employees error.
After I got over the initial shock of all that had happened and had time to think about it, I felt my rights had been violated, and was rather perturbed. I spoke briefly with Annette Gelles, then decided to get some information about the agent who interrogated me (agent McComas). I walked back into the gunshow to try and find him without success. I found another ATF agent that I had seen at some other shows, and asked him where I could find someone to speak with. He pointed out his supervisor (agent Brian Swan), and I proceeded to walk over to him. When I got to where agent Swan was standing, he was talking to some other ATF agents, so I waited off to the side for him to finish. When agent Swan was done he asked if he could help me, I told agent Swan I wished to speak to agent McComas. I considered his response of "What for!". in a loud tone, to be quite rude. When I told agent Swan I wanted agent McComas' badge number, and contact information, agent Swan again responded in a loud tone, "What for, we see you at ALL the gunshows!" I told him that I thought my rights had been violated, and that I might seek legal action. I then told agent Swan that I would wait up at the front entrance, where agent McComas' had interrogated me.
I had been waiting approximately 10 minutes when both agent McComas, and agent Swan walked up. I then asked agent McComas for his badge number, to which he responded, "We don't have badges." I then asked for contact information from him at the ATF and told him I may be seeking legal counsel. After some talking between agent McComas and agent Swan, they agreed to write down contact information for themselves. It was at about this time I noticed that the shirt agent McComas was wearing had profanity emblazoned across the back, and asked if it was customary for ATF agents to wear profanity in public, where women and children could see it. To which agent McComas replied, "It's customary for the ATF to wear anything they want to, when they are under-cover." I told him that I was offended and was sure that there were others who attended the show who were offended also. Agent McComas' sarcastic response to that was, "Why don't you have a list!" I told him I could probably get one, with signatures, in about 20 minutes. Agent McComas then got about an inch from my face and said in a very threatening tone, "You're really making a big deal out of nothing!" I then said, "No sir, I am not." He then got closer and said in an even more threatening tone, "You're really making a big mess out of nothing!" Again I replied, "No sir, I am not." Agent McComas started to say something else, but agent Swan took agent McComas by the arm, and pulled him away. The last thing agent McComas said to me, was when I was leaving. I had received a call from my wife letting me know she was in the parking lot to drive my car home. As I was walking out, agent McComas was walking in. With a smug look on his face, and in a very sarcastic tone he said, "Have a nice day."
I found this whole incident to be disheartening, and rather humiliating. Never in my life have I been made to feel so violated, and this is not a feeling that I'll soon forget. I am a law abiding citizen that has gone through background checks that were approved, to be able to work on military installations. A background check that was approved, for a Concealed Carry Weapon permit. A background check that was approved by the ATF itself, to be able to sell firearms for an FFL in the state of Virginia. I am as far from the criminal element as a person can be, and yet I was singled out for harassment by ATF agent McComas, and ATF agent Swan who was the lead agent. I feel these two agent went far beyond the limitations of their jobs, and should be under investigation.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to testify.
Testimony of John White, The GunSmith, before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security on the Operations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATFE) at the Richmond Area Gun Shows
February 15, 20064:00 PM
Rayburn House Office Building
Dear Committee Members,
At the Gunsmith, we are fortunate that our livelihood does not depend on gun sales. Our sales philosophy is not to sell at all costs but to provide a quality product for gun collectors, for self-protection and for competition shooters. Typically, the cost of the products we sell prevents our firearms from being attractive to individuals intending to make illegal or illicit purchases. We also spend time talking with our customers about their reasons for purchasing a firearm to make sure that the firearm we sell will suit the intended purchase, ensure they understand how to safely handle their firearm and to offer opportunity for further customization. We rely on repeat business and referrals because we normally cannot compete on price with larger gun dealers who can buy in quantity. What we can offer is quality, a guarantee that what we sell works and the extra customer service that a trained firearms instructor and experienced gunsmith can offer.
We know well the danger of firearms and that the lives we save by not selling for illegal purposes may be our families or our many friends in law enforcement agencies across the country. In 2004, our son was confronted by a burglar in his Richmond rental home. The burglar held in his hand what we think he imagined was a gun that he was stealing from our son's room. What he actually had was a customized paintball gun. Our son chased the burglar until the guidance he received from his many law enforcement relatives kicked in and he stopped and called the Richmond Police Department. Ironically, the first two officers to respond had been co-workers of his parents when they worked at the Richmond Police Department. The officers had seen our son's early years and were now responding to protect him as an adult. Preventing the illegal use of firearms and criminal activity, especially in the Richmond area, is always personal to The GunSmith.
The GunSmith is owned and operated by two former police officers who value the participation of the ATF in preventing firearms from getting into the hands of criminals. We value the ATF being available to us at the gun shows to quickly answer any firearms law questions that come up at the show. We appreciate the ability to have access to the ATF at the shows to point out suspicious situations as they arise so that these situations can be immediately and appropriately investigated. We have personally enjoyed the benefits of the ATF presence at the gun shows because prior to the strong ATF presence there was a large gang presence at the shows in Richmond. A fellow dealer, with whom we work closely, had two guns stolen as his attention was deliberately distracted with a mock word battle between gang members. Our lives were also threatened by an unhappy customer who threatened that he was "going to get his posse and come back for us." These open displays of gang activity have largely ceased as word has gotten out of the strong ATF presence at the Richmond Gun Shows. We applaud the efforts and intent of the ATF program at the gun shows in the Richmond area and would agree that they could serve as models for other similar programs with a few exceptions.
Early activity at the gun shows was entirely appropriate and within the law, however, it appeared that as time went on, the ATF was joined by personnel from other law enforcement agencies who were outside their span of control. As more resources were added, both financial and personnel, the mission and activities seemed to continually expand to try to keep everyone busy. For example, in the early gun shows, the ATF would observe and interview when activity seemed suspicious. Then home checks were added as more local officers participated with the ATF. Then instead of just address verifications, our customers told us that the officers would interview neighbors and family members about how they felt about this person buying a gun.
Computerized criminal history check wait times went from 20 minutes to 2-4 hours to overnight or longer. There was a clear pattern that checks on Richmond area gun buyers received the longer wait times while purchasers from out of the area were cleared much more quickly. Yes, sometimes sales were lost because of the long waits and even more sales were lost when neighbors and family members were informed of the buyer's intentions. Our income, fortunately, isn't dependent on gun sales but most of our customers know that we are involved with law enforcement and wanted us to explain why their legal behavior was being reported to their neighbors and family members creating unwanted attention and difficulties.
Our customers questioned the fact that they were subjected to the additional scrutiny and address verification procedures only at gun shows when they could make the same purchase at a gun shop without the additional attention. This might seem reasonable if there was additional probable cause but it is hard to justify when we were making sales to Richmond Police Officers, Federal Prison Guards, US Marshals, military personnel home on leave, local judges, etc. who unfortunately seemed to share one additional characteristic, their ethnicity.
We don't know if the ATF was ever aware of this circumstance but due to the backlogs created by these long waits, many dealers began calling in criminal history checks rather than delivering the paperwork to the on-site State Police personnel. Called-in checks had a much shorter wait time and quickly became the preferred method with many dealers.
We and most of the licensed dealers would much rather be able to work with the ATF than be forced to work around the more unreasonable methods. We would like to see the cooperative relationship with the ATF on criminal history checks and address verifications restored because there is no advantage for any licensed dealer to make an illicit sale. Licensed dealers are subject to additional scrutiny by the ATF both at the shows and at their place of business. An improper sale means a loss of income while a licensed dealer does the mandatory ATF firearms trace and spends time in court testifying because of the improper use of a sold firearm.
We would also like to see the inordinate attention on purchasers of firearms who happen to be female stopped. Times have changed and the world has changed. As more women have become head of households, entered law enforcement and the military and learned of their many advantages as competition shooters, more women are interested in firearms for the same reason as male purchasers. Unfortunately, many women are not very knowledgeable about firearms and The Gunsmith is somewhat rare at the show because we will take the time to talk to people and counsel them about their firearm choices whether or not they make a purchase from us. Not all women, however, know that we provide this service and rely on others to help them make the best choice and not get taken on price. This is no different than a woman taking a friend to buy a car or get car repairs on any other activity for which they are unsure of their expertise or believe they will be treated more fairly if they are there with a man. The truth is that not just women buy firearms for more than they are worth at a gun show. Gun shows are a business operation and caveat emptor applies. It seems, however, to be the prevailing opinion for law enforcement at the gun show that any woman who brings a male friend for advice or support must be making a straw purchase.
This probably was happening more often when the ATF first began attending the gun shows but the ATF must have missed how successful they have been in shutting down this practice by their presence. The "profile" has continued long after the problem, for the most part, has gone. For the Richmond Raceway Show that sparked this hearing, the problem was magnified by the fact that, on Sunday, there were probably almost as many law enforcement officers as customers at the show. If a woman approached a gun table, she was quickly surrounded by undercover officers closely observing her every move. A women was almost guaranteed to rate an interview if she actually purchased or attempted to purchase a gun at that show on Sunday.
Our observation was that there seemed to be a large group of very young, relatively inexperienced and very energetic law enforcement officers at this show on Sunday who wanted to make a good showing for their supervisors. Having supervised young, enthusiastic officers, we know that, although their intent is good, sometimes when they have too many resources and too much undesignated time, they tend to create things to do and often deviate from action plans. Our impression that this was the case on this fateful August Sunday is further supported by the fact that, according to the information that we received, records and notes from their temporary office at the show were left in a trashcan. Experienced officers would have been far too paranoid to leave records behind and far more polished and discreet in their observation skills. It seemed that on this one day, there was plenty of youthful energy and enthusiasm but adult supervision at the show was lacking.
That being said, we think it would be a mistake to remove the ATF presence from the gun shows especially over this one lapse. We do not want to return to the days where gangs felt free to mingle with legitimate purchasers and we credit the ATF with bringing the current business atmosphere to the shows in the Richmond area.
What we would specifically recommend is:
. A detailed action plan for the ATF at each show and a clearer division of labor for outside agencies so that the ATF is not held accountable for the actions of officers over whom they have no control. This action plan should include that an experienced supervising agent is always present at the show.
. There should be more scrutiny and more attention given to the parking lots at these gun shows where many gun transactions take place outside the scrutiny of the gun show and without any criminal history check or address verification requirement.
. There should be greater scrutiny of "private collection" dealers within the show who do not have a firearms dealer license. These dealers are also exempt from the criminal history or address verification requirement for their sales and these "private collection" dealers often have suspiciously large revolving stock for a true private collection. Any thinking criminal or straw purchaser is going to buy a gun in the parking lot or from these dealers and avoid the issue of criminal history checks and address verification all together.
. All the law enforcement agencies should respect the rights and privacy of the majority of customers who are at gun shows for honest purposes. Honest citizens should not be punished for the actions of the few. There should be greater attention paid to enforcing the law without abridging the rights of the many legitimate attendees at the gun show.
We know that what we are suggesting are more difficult investigations and cases to pursue but since the ATF has been so successful in eliminating most of the obvious violations from the shows and has access to additional resources and outside agencies willing to help, this would be a major step forward in shutting down any illicit gun sales and purchases occurring at the gun shows and we would greatly appreciate and support their efforts. We look forward to the continuing presence of the ATF at the gun shows and our continued mutual support.
John H. White, II
John H. White, II
Co-Owner of The GunSmith
235 Vel-Mar Lane
Lyndhurst, VA 22952
Law Enforcement Certification, October 1980
Central Shenandoah Criminal Justice Training Center, Weyers Cave, VA
NRA Police Firearms Instructor School, August 1981
Secret Service Firearms Instructor Certification, 1987
Certified Armorer for Beretta, Colt, Glock, H&K, Ruger, Sig Sauer and Smith and Wesson Firearms
Sergeant, (January 1992- Retired 2005), Albemarle County Police Department Patrol and Investigations Divisions, Charlottesville, VA
Police Officer, (July 1984 - January 1992), Albemarle County Police Department, Charlottesville, VA
Special Deputy U S Marshall, (1985 - 1987), Federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force
Deputy, (June 1983 - July 1984), Albemarle County Sheriff's Office, Charlottesville, VA
Deputy, (July 1980 - May 1988), Fluvanna County Sheriff's Office, Fluvanna, VA
Police Officer, (May 1978 - July 1980), Lake Monticello Police Department, Fluvanna, VA
Elizabeth B. White
Co-Owner of The GunSmith
235 Vel-Mar Lane
Lyndhurst, VA 22952
Bachelor of Arts (Magna cum Laude), December 1982
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Major: Political Science
Law Enforcement Certification, January 1983
Richmond Bureau of Police Training Academy, Richmond, VA
Commander of Administrative Services Division/Management Support Coordinator, (February 1999 - present), Albemarle County Police Department, Charlottesville, VA
Sergeant, (November 1991 - February 1999), Albemarle County Police Department, Charlottesville, VA
Police Officer, (July 1988 - November 1991), Albemarle County Police Department, Charlottesville, VA
Police Analyst/Officer, (January 1986 - May 1988), James City County Police Department, Williamsburg, VA
Police Officer, (July 1983 - August 1985), Richmond Bureau of Police, Richmond, VA