and BATFE in particular.
It was only a month ago that a bizarre story broke in the Pacific Northwest, as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers trumpeted their seizure of what they claimed were more than two dozen machine guns disguised as toys.
The problem with the CBP claim was that the items seized were 16 WE TTI (WE Tech) M4A1 and 14 WE TTI (WE Tech) M4 CQBR gas blowback Airsoft rifles that shoot plastic BBs.
They really were toys.
But instead of admitting they can’t tell a toy gun from a real one, CBP turned these Airsoft rifles over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the agency agreed that these pot-metal made, plastic BB-shooting plinkers were honest-to-God firearms.
To put it mildly, things got interesting.
And, when faced with requests to provide information,
The ATF’s written response to the FOIA request was less than helpful. Instead of providing information about the WE Tech rifles seized from Airsoft Outlet Northwest at the Port of Tacoma, Washington, ATF responded with what appeared to be a clumsy bait-and-switch:
We would like to bring to your attention our oversight on the subject of your request in our letter dated April 13, 2010; Springfield, Inc instead of record pertaining to Airsoft rifles intercepted by Customs and Border Protection; as maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Perhaps an expert in FOIA law can explain this interesting redirection to those of us less versed in the finer points of the legalities, but it would seem quite bizarre that an agency subject to FOIA requests has the authority to randomly determine that the requester really wanted something entirely different … and entirely useless. Airsoft Outlet Northwest’s Ben Martin confirmed receiving apparently identical information in response to their FOIA request as well.
Hope is not lost for Airsoft Outlet Northwest, however. The government recently released some of the $20,000 in inventory they’d seized, including 15 other Airsoft machine guns made by WE Tech and 20 bolt-action Airsoft guns. Perhaps with some patience — and a bit of tenacity — the ATF and Customs can finally be convinced to return these toys to their rightful owners.
Getting them to admit they were laughably wrong may be an entirely different matter.
Part of the problem is that instead of manning-up and saying "We screwed up" and making it right, BATFE* will play games with FOIA requests, play games with the property and the people and desperately hope that everyone gets so sick of it(or runs out of money) and gives up. Which brings us back to the 'low opinion' problem.
* There are honest, good agents there; but an awful lot of their higher-ups are assholes. Or fools. Or both. God knows why the honest ones hang around.