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News & Editorials

We're publishing Neal Knox's writeup -- which will appear in Shotgun News -- before the election in hopes it will help a few more people understand the gravity of this election.  Mr. Knox's article is followed by additional information as it relates to the latest assault on a gun dealer. The initial report is here:

BATF's At It Again

By Neal Knox

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 1) -- The Oct. 25 BATF raid on Jerry Michel's Specialty Firearms in Mesa, Ariz., sounded all too familiar   -- as if we had turned back the calendar a quarter-century, to the heyday of BATF civil liberties abuses under President Jimmy Carter.

“They were throwing vintage collector's items in mint condition through the air and into a trashcan 10 feet away,” Jerry told Angel Shamaya, Director of KeepAndBearArms.Com, who has interviewed Jerry and other witnesses. 

One such gun was a Winchester 94 Antique, a 1960's era new-in-box commemorative, Jerry told me.  “They took it out of the factory box and pitched it into a plastic garbage can that had a bunch of my other guns in it.”

In the 1970's I heard the same kind of story, from several dealers and collectors, including the guy who saw his unfired commemoratives thrown onto a concrete floor -- and got them back test-fired “to determine if they had been used in a crime.”

Jerry's story was a reminder of the importance of next week's election, which will be over long before most of you read this column. 

It will determine not only who sets the legislative agenda, and who appoints the Supreme Court, but it will determine whether, under a President Gore, the BATF ratchets up its infringements of the law and the Constitution, or a President George W. Bush tightens the reins on the Federal gun police.

Jerry's entire stock of guns, plus his personal collection, -- a total of 274 guns, about $300,000 worth -- were taken, along with his records and about 3,000 Form 4473's. 

The guns ranged from a .50 caliber rifle to a black powder pistol.  They included newly customized Ruger 10/22's (some belonging to customers), consignment guns, a pair of Colt Single Actions, military-look semi-autos and legal full autos which Jerry had owned for 15 years.

The Colt Single Actions, with mother‑of‑pearl grips, were among those taken from their boxes and casually tossed into the garbage cans.

BATF found three Berettas with no serial numbers.  Except they were Brownings with serial numbers under the grips.

The raid started with Jerry being enticed out of the shop -- which doubles as his residence -- just a few minutes after he opened.  He was grabbed and held by three of some 30 state and Federal officers.  The two guns that he routinely carries in the shop were taken from him (though they had to let one arm free so he could show them how to get a Freedom Arms .22 out of its belt buckle holster).

As stunned as he was, he broke out laughing when he saw the swarm of officers.  “You must really think I'm dangerous,” he told them.

The two guns he was carrying were the only ones he was allowed to keep.  Other personal guns -- including the full autos and guns he had owned since he was 10 -- clearly marked as not for sale, were carted away. 

What happened inside the store was videotaped by a surveillance camera.  But the BATF took that crucial videotape. 

Jerry was handcuffed and taken to Mesa Police HQ by a BATF agent and a Phoenix policeman, read his Miranda rights, and held for about three hours.

“Am I under arrest?,” he said he asked.  “No,” they replied.

“Can I leave?” 

“No, you're being detained.”

Other than being told his paperwork wasn't in order, and that he had sold two guns to straw purchasers -- which Jerry angrily denied -- he has never been told the reason for the raid and seizure, nor had any charges been filed by Nov. 1.

When he was taken back to his store, he was fingerprinted and had mug shots taken in front of friends and gawkers.

When Angel called BATF he was told that Jerry did not have a Mesa pawnbroker's license, a $100 ticket supposedly required to sell used guns in the city -- which would almost certainly violate the state's preemption law.  But Jerry doesn't pawn guns.

The Federal interest in Mesa's ordinance is an obscure provision of the law requiring all licensed dealers to be in compliance with local laws and zoning restrictions.

Unlike some other recent much-hyped BATF raid targets, Jerry has no criminal record, “not even a speeding ticket,” he told me.

In those other raids BATF used highly questionable search warrants to justify fishing expeditions which produced clearly illegal items.  The “violation” of Mesa's ordinance may be a way to rummage around for something unlawful.

Jerry adamantly denies that he has anything illegal or has knowingly committed any offense.  I sure hope he's right.

To begin receiving Neal Knox's bi-monthly newsletter, send a contribution of $25 or more to The Firearms Coalition, 7771 Sudley Rd. No. 44, Manassas, VA 20109.

Additional information from Angel Shamaya:

For clarity's sake, it was actually John Arbon of who was told by ATF that the war against Jerry Michel was waged for his not having a pawn permit. When Neal, Jerry and I spoke on Nov 1, we covered so much ground I can easily understand how Neal arrived at that conclusion, no biggie. In fact, Jerry and I went to the federal courthouse in Phoenix today to pick up the search warrant affidavit. (For those who don't know, a search warrant affidavit is a written declaration made under oath before a notary public or other authorized officer. In this case, it is the Statement of Probable Cause that serves as the sworn testimony given to the judge to entice him to sign the gun confiscation order.) 

The specific "law" the ATF used which relates to the pawn permit is fascinating. According to the affidavit, and I quote precisely, so poor punctuation is on ATF's part:

The definition of a Secondhand Dealer, as defined in MCC Code 5-7-1, is any person engaged in the business of buying, selling trading, exchanging or otherwise dealing in any of the following items; secondhand goods, wares, merchandise, or articles; old stamp old coins and money; and "precious items" as defined in ARS 44-1601. This definition applies whether such business is the principal or sole business carried on, managed or conducted with a branch or department of some other business.

Also according to the affidavit as part of the testimony used to jack Mr. Michel up is a statement that Mr. Michel does have, in good standing, "a valid City of Mesa Transaction Privilege Sales Tax License, #00082967. The affidavit states that he has a "regular" license, but not a "secondhand dealer's license."

The villain.

Also relating to Mr. Knox's above, to my knowledge and Jerry's, there were no "state" police involved insofar as the State of Arizona is concerned, only City and Federal.  Neal offers an apology to all state officers for the oversight. His draft was correct, but we covered a lot of ground that day.

Jerry asked me to be brief in relaying the contents of this affidavit, so I will. First, a bit of commentary of the experience of acquiring the affidavit. I called the courthouse to ask if the affidavit had been released to the general public yet. I persisted through the usual maze of recordings until, by accident, I reached a live person. I then persisted until I got to the proper desk in the room where court case records are held. 

I said, "In reference to case number _____, will you please confirm that it has been released so I can justify a trip to the downtown area to pick it up?"

"I'm sorry. I can't tell you that over the phone. You can come down here and I will check for you when you get here."

"Ma'am, are you telling me that if I live two hours away, I must invest 4 hours of driving just to get you to walk over to that filing cabinet to let me know if what I need is there?"


"Are you in the same room as the filing cabinet that would contain the file for court case #_____?"


"Will you please go open the drawer and tell me if the file is there so I don't have to waste 4 hours of my life finding out it is not there?"

"No. You must come down here in person to see if it has been released. Thank you. Click."

Your tax dollars at work.

So Jerry and I arrange to meet in a downtown location and walk in together. He asked me to be a witness, and I was eager to meet these fine people who'd tell me to waste 4 hours of precious drive time to have the file not be there. We left our hardware in our cars as the federal building is metal-detectored.

It was there.

Here is, for now, the only thing Jerry's okay with me saying:  As we read the 15 page Statement of Probable Cause, Jerry said at least 5 times, "That is NOT TRUE!" He belabored several points at length, and at even greater length before we left. There is at least one and are possibly three or four things that the ATF couldn't prove if they tried. And they surely won't try on some of their "statements of probable cause," because they'd lose. They used as much inflammatory "evidence" as they could pull out of a dark smelly place in order to get a judge to sign a confiscation order, and that is that. 

And they DO accuse him of making straw sales, as well. (He contests every last one of them.)

I will produce as much of this affidavit as Jerry permits, as soon as he says I can do so. Though it's now a matter of public record available to anyone, I respect this man enough to do what he asks. I also respect the opinions of Neal Knox, Larry Pratt and David Hardy (former NRA lawyer who is still closely allied with them), and they all suggested to not pound on this too much until ATF files charges.

Also noteworthy: We asked the clerk to make two copies of this document, which totals 19 pages including the search warrant, the list of items to be stolen, and the Statement of Probable Cause. 19 pages, times 2. For our 38 pages, we were handed a bill for $19.00 and told to walk across the hall to pay it.

We did.

Finally, for now: the ATF used 5 undercover agents and has been after Jerry since at least March 2, 2000. Certainly thousands and likely tens and maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars were used to attack this man. And all it would have taken was a couple of phone calls.


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Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. — LORD ACTON (1887)

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