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December 16, 2013

ATF Takes Advantage of Mentally Challenged, Flouts Gun Laws

As if the horribly botched Operation Fast and Furious wasn’t enough.

If the horribly botched ATF Operation Fast and Furious wasn’t enough, a lengthy investigation by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reveals that a number of sting operations conducted by the ATF were executed with highly questionable tactics, such as using mentally challenged men as unwitting marks to buy and sell arms. Many of those men were then charged for their involvement. The newspaper found a half-dozen operations where legally dubious methods were used to rack up significant numbers of arrests; unfortunately, most of those prosecuted were small-time criminals.

On several occasions, undercover agents found low-IQ men and enlisted them as helpers in their schemes. Their general mode of operation was to open up a storefront or pawnshop that openly traded in stolen goods, including guns, and use the “slow-headed” helpers to work odd jobs and bring in the desired types of customers.

Yet when dealing in guns, the undercover agents frequently allowed known felons with stolen guns to “walk” them out of their stores. One store was even located directly across the street from a middle school, a mistake the responsible agent said he made because he entered the building through a back door and never noticed the school. The owner of that building incurred $30,000 in roof damage when the ATF agents removed an overhead light that lit an adjacent parking lot. Other landlords were left with removed walls and electrical wiring in disarray from the installation of hidden video equipment.

In other locations where the ATF opened undercover pawnshops, local authorities had to deal with a rash of break-ins and burglaries in these areas, with some perpetrators literally driving from the scene of a crime to a pawnshop to get quick cash.

Obviously, the very nature of undercover work is that of a tradeoff: committing some illegal acts in order to bring down a larger criminal conspiracy. These stings seemed to yield high numbers of arrests and convictions, the Journal-Sentinel writes, but many in the legal community question their value. “That is a waste of federal resources,” said a former U.S. attorney who worked in the organized crime unit.

And while many would protest by saying these criminals got what was coming to them, the question of how many criminals were manufactured in these operations is a nagging one. There’s enough real crime out there without creating more incentives in order to make headlines and an excuse for a larger budget.

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