San Jose Mercury News (CA)


June 19, 1995
Jess B. Guy

Memo: Jess B. Guy is San Jose resident agent-in-charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms


I DON'T own a pair of jackboots, never have. I do know what they are, and can assure all readers of the Mercury News that none of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents I work with have a pair.

As an ATF agent and supervisor of ATF agents, I have participated in almost 1,000 search and arrest warrants in the past 25 years. Our warrants are predominantly targeted against armed felons, armed drug dealers and those who would provide arms to criminals. Unless you are violating the law, I don't care how many guns you own or what you do with them as long as it's legal. I have neither the resources, staff, or time to worry about target-shooting SKS's, bayonet lugs, folding stocks or flash hiders on your guns.

My agency has been targeted by the National Rifle Association and some members of Congress for abolishment. They refer to repeated instances of abuse by ATF agents in law enforcement operations.

A greater concern is the number of citizens voicing displeasure at ATF operations and calling for a congressional review of two major raids. They involve ATF actions in the Randy Weaver incident at Bonner's Ferry, Idaho, in 1992, and ATF involvement in the failed Branch Davidian search warrant operation at Mt. Carmel, Texas, in 1993. Review of one of these incidents, the Branch Davidian fire, will begin July 12 in a House of Representatives hearing. Unfortunately, our denial of any violations of civil rights will never change the minds of many.

From a factual standpoint, ATF had arrested Randy Weaver without incident, in 1991, based on a federal indictment charging that he sold two sawed-off shotguns in violation of federal law. Subsequent to his release on bond, he vowed never to be returned to custody.

When Weaver failed to appear for trial, the U.S. Marshal's Service was sent to arrest him and bring him to court. The initial confrontation between Weaver and his family with deputy U.S. marshals ended in the deaths of a deputy U.S. marshal and Weaver's son. A subsequent confrontation with the FBI resulted in the death of Weaver's wife.

I was the team leader for one of three ATF Special Response Teams deployed to Idaho within 48 hours of the initial shooting. ATF's mission was to provide outer perimeter security some four miles from the Weaver home in the very rugged hills of northern Idaho. We were constantly faced with having to deal with avowed Nazis, skinheads and armed anti-government activists trying to provoke an incident or sneak through the perimeter to reach the Weaver cabin. The great majority of these people were not from the local area, but out of state.

We found the residents of Bonner's Ferry to be gracious and supportive hosts during the two weeks we were on the mountain. Weaver was ultimately acquitted of all but two charges resulting from that investigation.

The Branch Davidian issue will continue to cause anguish for those on both sides of the controversy. The U.S. Treasury Department conducted an investigation of ATF actions in the failed raid and reported its results in a 500-page document, available through the Government Printing Office. The report was not kind to ATF. But it was a fair assessment of where ATF could have done a better job and where we made our mistakes. Very few of those persons clamoring for our demise have read this report.

Again, I and my team spent three weeks in San Antonio providing witness security during the trial of the surviving Branch Davidians. We met with numerous citizens from Waco who were kind, thankful and sincere in their appreciation of what ATF, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies faced at Mt. Carmel.

Even though both incidents have been thoroughly examined, I believe that congressional hearings should also be held in the Randy Weaver case. There are those in the public, not extremists, who have voiced their concerns based on rumors, half-truths and innuendo.

Law enforcement cannot function in a democracy without the support of those citizens to whom it owes its duty. If we lose the faith and confidence of the populace, we are ineffective, or worse, oppressive. Openness, without jeopardizing investigations, and reasonable communication with all concerned should be a hallmark of professional law enforcement.