BATFE Spends $3 Million to Ruin Red’s
Popular Idaho gunstore is still operating but has spent $200,000+ in legal fees
By Mark Anderson
TWIN FALLS, Idaho—Ryan Horsley seems confident that he will triumph over a government shakedown that has cost his family business about $200,000 in legal fees, as he fights to keep Red’s Trading Post, a fourth-generation firearms store, in operation.
Red’s is Idaho’s oldest surviving firearms dealership. Sometime this summer, federal judge Ed Lodge, who’s best known for presiding over the dramatic Randy Weaver case, will decide if the federal government is right in claiming that Red’s “willfully” violated the law by making a relatively small number of clerical mistakes in its firearms sales records.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (BATFE), a relic of the prohibition days whose modern-day legitimacy is an open question, has been poring through the store’s sales records since at least 2005, looking for such “willful” clerical violations.
Although Horsley at first thought that the BATFE would not push the matter into court, in order to avoid any bad publicity that may accompany a ruling contrary to the government’s position, the matter did go to court on March 3-4, 2008 in Boise—about a year to the day since the battle heated up.
In early March of 2007, the federal agency revoked Red’s Federal Firearms License, but a judge granted an injunction against the BATFE to halt that process, thereby allowing Red’s to continue operating in Twin Falls, where another firearms dealer, Blue Lake Sporting Goods, was shut down by the BATFE. In that case, the store turned in its FFL and buckled under the weight of legal expenses.
Horsley, a particularly irrepressible man who so far has resisted what could easily have plowed his store under, told AFP on March 26 that he feels good about the court proceedings, believing that the government did not convince Judge Lodge that the store is a menace to public safety and deserves having its FFL revoked.
The FFL allows dealers to buy and sell firearms; revoking it would doom the store. Horsley also recalled that when the BATFE first tried to revoke the FFL, it claimed that Red’s was a “threat to public safety” but turned around and said that Red’s still could sell the 1,000 or so firearms already in stock—as long as it did not order additional guns to sell.
“You see what I’m up against?” Horsley said. Horsley’s attorney, Richard Gardiner, told AFP that Red’s largest number of clerical errors on BATFE Form 4473 involved something simple, such as not listing the county of residence of the gun-buyers. But he added that all these forms included zip codes. Many of the purchasers are from Twin Falls County, which has a city of the same name.
Gardiner thinks that Red’s practices do not break federal regulations in listing only the city (plus the zip code), even if the county of residence is sometimes not listed.
“We take the position that the regulations do not require both [city and county]” Gardiner said.
So, why did the BATFE bring what appears to be a weak case to court? Horsley’s view is that the agency cannot very well spend $3 million just on its case against Red’s—to try to revoke an FFL that cost the store just $300 every three years to maintain—and then drop the matter.
“If they just back off, they would have nothing to show for it,” Horsley said, as he struggled to comprehend why $3 million in taxpayer dollars have been spent on a case where no evidence has been found to suggest that Red’s has knowingly put guns into the hands of criminals or committed some other serious act.
Horsley feels the BATFE simply is trying to portray Red’s as a bad place, which, however, is a little tough, considering that local police officers have worked there.
“Many times we’ve had part-time law enforcement officers working for us,” Horsley said.
The local sheriff, Wayne Tousley, told AFP in a 2007 interview that, as the chief law enforcement officer of Twin Falls County, the BATFE is supposed to come to him first to conduct its investigations. But he said then that the agency typically bypasses him.
Reach AFP Corresponding Editor Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Issue # 14 & 15, April 7 & 14, 2008)