Not even ATF can verify ATF’s ‘ghost gun’ claims

by Lee Williams

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a unique reputation among federal law enforcement agencies. Quite frankly, the ATF is well known for not always telling the truth. Whether its firearm statistics, after-action reports downplaying the body count of their latest sting to backfire or quotes from senior executives, any information coming from ATF is always suspect and must always be verified.

Verifying ATF information is not easy either. They put up a lot of roadblocks. The ATF ignores Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and its spokespeople rarely answer their phones or return emails. It’s as if the ATF doesn’t want the public to peek behind their curtain, because they too are scared of what will be found.

For example, one senior ATF official – Carlos A. Canino, former Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division – can be credited for jumpstarting the war on homemade firearms, so it is especially important to verify everything he has said. After all, last year the ATF announced notice of proposed rulemaking that could regulate many of the core components of homemade firearms. To be clear, Canino’s quotes caused all of this.

In 2020, activists from the propaganda arm of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun empire asked Canino about the prevalence of homemade firearms in California. An earlier study said 30% of the guns recovered by ATF in California were unserialized “ghost guns,” but Canino said the real numbers were actually much higher. “Forty-one percent, so almost half our cases we’re coming across are these ‘ghost guns,’” Canino told the anti-gun activists. That was all it took. The entire gun-ban industry jumped on Canino’s statement like a duck on a June bug. The war on homemade firearms had officially begun, and ATF’s Los Angeles SAC fired the first shots.

Unverifiable

Erik Longnecker likely will not have a long or prosperous career at the ATF. Longnecker, the program manager for the ATF’s Public Affairs Division’s Office of Public and Governmental Affairs, has a habit of returning emails from investigative reporters. This is rare and not exactly career enhancing at the ATF.

In a lengthy email chain yesterday, I asked Longnecker to verify Canino’s comments, and to add some context. Specifically, how many firearms did ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division seize? Did the 41% constitute five or six homemade firearms or were there hundreds or thousands.

To be clear, Longnecker was unable to verify Canino’s statement or add any context.

“I contacted the Los Angeles Field Division earlier today after your initial email, and their Public Information Officer was unable to verify any figures provided in 2019 by former-SAC Canino without knowing the time-period(s) he used for his comments,” Longnecker said in the email. “For that reason, we rely on verifiable data generally documented on our website or obtained through a FOIA request.”

Longnecker supplied statistics about the numbers of homemade firearms he claimed were recovered by law enforcement at possible crime scenes nationwide from Jan. 1, 2016, through Dec. 31, 2020, which were submitted to ATF for tracing – a total of 23,906 guns during the five-year period, or roughly 13 guns per day.

•         2016: 1,750

•         2017: 2,507

•         2018: 3,776

•         2019: 7,161

•         2020: 8,712

“I am not aware of any other verified PMF (Privately Made Firearm) data that has been published by ATF,” Longnecker wrote.

This is outrageous. The entire war on homemade firearms was based on alleged ATF data, which the ATF now claims it cannot verity. Civil rights are about to be violated, and gunmakers and firearm parts manufacturers are about to be put out of business, all based on spurious data from a former ATF official who the agency now appears to have disavowed.

Weaponized data  

“ATF does not label any firearm as a ‘ghost gun,’ but prefers to use the term ‘privately made firearm,” Longnecker explained during our correspondence Monday.

Whatever. No one seems to have told the Biden-Harris administration about the ATF’s preferred label. Like the anti-gun industry, the White House grabbed onto Canino’s comments and took off.

 “In May 2021, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a proposed rule to help stop the proliferation of “ghost guns,” which are unserialized, privately made firearms that are increasingly being recovered at crime scenes and have been identified by law enforcement officials as a serious threat to public safety. Today, criminals are buying kits containing nearly all of the components and directions for finishing a firearm within as little as 30 minutes and using these firearms to commit crimes,” according to a White House Fact Sheet published last week, in the section titled: “Reining in the proliferation of ghost guns.”

The Chicago-Sun Times is the latest media outlet to glom onto the fact-free ghost-gun cavalcade, in an editorial titled “‘Ghost’ guns are a gift to criminals. It’s time to ban them.”

“Ghost guns are firearms purchasers assemble themselves without serial numbers, making them easy to obtain and hard to trace. Some are ‘printed’ on 3-D printers and include no metal, allowing owners to carry them through metal detectors undetected,” the paper’s editorial board wrote. Note: If some of their readers try to carry a “ghost gun” through a TSA checkpoint, they and the editorial board will likely be very surprised at the outcome.

The Chicago newspaper cited Canino’s fictional statistics and used the tired attempt at attribution – police say.

“Police say ghost guns are a growing problem,” the newspaper wrote. “Last year, they confiscated 455 ghost guns in Chicago. In 2019, law enforcement agencies recovered 10,000 ghost guns nationwide. In 2020, 41% of the ATF’s cases in Los Angeles were ghost guns.”

Police don’t say

None of the senior law enforcement officers I’ve interviewed about homemade firearms have said they’re a problem. Most haven’t seen any – not one. Several had their staff check their property rooms for homemade firearms recovered from crime scenes. None were found.

Several top cops accused the ATF of conflating homemade firearms with factory-made guns that have had their serial numbers illegally altered or removed, which could account for ATF’s high number of trace requests. I asked Longnecker about this. His response was somewhat vague:

“ATF investigates the criminal possession and other criminal misuse of both commercially manufactured and privately made firearms. These privately made firearms can be made from multiple sources and frequently lack serial numbers and other markings which generally make the firearms more difficult to trace,” he wrote. “ATF also investigates the criminal possession and other criminal misuse of firearms that have had serial numbers altered or obliterated. Firearms that have had serial numbers partially or fully obliterated usually have other markings that assist in the positive identification and tracing of the firearms. ATF uses this information to identify firearms trafficking patterns and related crimes.”

Takeaways

The war on homemade firearms – like the war on guns itself – is based on false claims, skewed statistics, faulty logic and lashings of media hype. Both seek to demonize an inanimate object and punish legitimate gun owners for the sins of a few bad men. Whether you own a homemade firearm or not, we must all push back against what is an assault on our civil rights. Clearly, the gun-ban industry is using their bumpstock template to target yet another legal product. Their move was expected, similar to their ongoing effort to ban pistol braces.

ATF’s role was expected too. They’re clearly assisting the anti-gunners by pumping up the number of tracing requests by combining homemade firearms with factory guns with altered serial numbers. How else could they claim “ghost guns” are a growing problem, right?

I have said before no one makes a better case to abolish the ATF than the ATF.

Then, as now, the country would be safer without them.


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