Vin Suprynowicz

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Has Your Bookshelf Been Approved by the BATF?

by Vin Suprynowicz

July 18, 2000

The Bill of Rights has an integral structure, like a castle. Folks who believe they can give up one of the first 10 amendments to the claim of "compelling government interest" — yet still keep the others intact — are like soldiers who fight to defend nine of a castle's gates while leaving the tenth gate open and unguarded.

The ninth amendment, for instance, tells our government that the people retain inalienable rights too numerous and obvious to enumerate. One of these is clearly the right to manufacture, possess, and traffic in alcohol, tobacco, and any other medicinal plant derivative we please, including opium, cocaine, and Indian hemp.

We know this because our great-grandparents were free to do all these things without any government interference from 1607 until 1916, and because a specific constitutional amendment (the 18th) had to be enacted to ban a single one of these drugs — alcohol — in 1919 (an amendment since wisely repealed.)

Since no parallel constitutional amendment has been ratified to allow the "War on Drugs," all current drug laws violate the Ninth Amendment. Yet do we jealously guard this medical liberty? No, the mass of modern Americans figure, "What the heck, as long as they say it'll 'keep kids off drugs,' let them do whatever's necessary."

As a result, we have subsequently lost most of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable search and seizure, with random traffic stops and police SWAT teams breaking down doors in the middle of the night becoming routine features of our evening news. And as for the Fifth Amendment — ever tried to get "just compensation" for a truck full of government-seized drugs or guns?

Likewise, most Americans today figure it's OK to let the government violate the inconvenient Second Amendment, so long as we're promised that jailing or killing gun owners and dealers for possessing a rifle with a bayonet lug might "save the life of a single child." But were the Americans who thus ignored Pastor Niemoller's advice prepared for this single open gate to subsequently erode their First Amendment right to read any book or magazine they please?

Already, in the 1997 Viper Militia prosecution in Arizona, defendants were charged with "conspiracy" to pass around books and magazines and show each other videos that described how to build weapons.

Now, novelist and federally licensed machine gun collector John Ross, author of the magnificent novel of the gun culture "Unintended Consequences" ($33 postpaid; 800-374-4049; P.O. Box 86, Lonedell, MO 63060) has apparently been singled out for federal intimidation for writing a fictional novel in which American gun owners finally get fed up and start offing their oppressors, including characters clearly based on Janet Reno and gun-grabbing N.Y. Rep. (now Sen.) Charles Schumer.

In a June 30 letter to BATF Director Bradley Buckles, writing on behalf of Ross, attorney James H. Jeffries III of Greensboro, N.C. states:

"Mr. Ross is an investment broker and financial adviser with a respected investment firm in St. Louis. He ... is the grandson of President Harry Truman's press secretary, Charles Ross, and was himself the Democratic Party candidate for the United States House of Representatives from the Second District of Missouri in 1998. In short, Mr. Ross is an upstanding and productive member of his community. ...

"Of central importance to the purpose of this letter is the fact that Mr. Ross is also the author of 'Unintended Consequences,' a highly popular novel about the trials and tribulations of legal gun owners and dealers in the United States. Although the book is manifestly a work of fiction, it accurately depicts documented historical events in the long and sordid history of misconduct by personnel of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. ... Because the book is highly critical of the Bureau, it appears that some in your agency have undertaken to suppress it and to intimidate its author.

"For example, in 1997 the book's publisher became aware that individuals purporting to be BATF agents had threatened vendors of the book in at least three different states with 'problems' if they did not cease their sales of the book. A full-page ad in Shotgun News offering a $10,000 reward for the identity of these individuals put a stop to that particular business.

"Now we have learned that in late May of this year agents from your St. Louis field office have engaged in an official effort to enlist Mrs. Ross, who is amicably separated from her husband, as an informant against her husband. On or about May 24, at about 7:30 a.m., two agents approached Mrs. Ross on the street while she was walking her dog, identified themselves by displaying their BATF credentials, and proceeded to inquire what she thought about her husband's book. ... This contact had been preceded in previous weeks by pretext telephone calls to Mrs. Ross, by what were undoubtedly your agents, in an attempt to draw her out about her husband's book. An agent, using the pseudonym of Peter Nettleson, and pretending to be a great fan of 'Unintended Consequences,' sought Mrs. Ross's agreement that the book was, in fact, 'a manual for the murder of federal agents.'

"I note in passing that best-selling author Tom Clancy in recent books has murdered a director of the FBI, the President of the United States, the entire Congress, the Supreme Court, the entire cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a few lesser functionaries. I presume he has not thereby become subject to investigation by your literary critics.

"As an experienced federal prosecutor I am fully aware of what is going on here. Disgruntled former spouses are a prime source of intelligence for law enforcement, having as they frequently do both a strong bias against the subject of the investigation and proximity and intimacy. ... A structured approach such as this required, according to your manuals, formal agency approval. It required the investment of time and effort in setting up the approach: determining Mrs. Ross's new address, learning her new telephone number, physical surveillance to determine her routine so that she could be approached in a way that she could not simply shut the door, etc. ...

"What kind of people are you? Is there no honor within the ranks of your agency? It has long been clear, from repeated court decisions and congressional committee reports, that your agents have no familiarity with the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Now it appears that they have not even been introduced to the very first Article of the Bill of Rights.

"I am writing to express our outrage about this conduct and to formally demand that your agency cease and desist from this unconstitutional abuse of power. ... By copies of this letter I am requesting the Inspector General of the Treasury Department to formally investigate this unlawful conduct and the Attorney General to investigate to determine whether Mr. Ross's civil rights are being violated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms."

I called John Ross in St. Louis this week to ask how he feels about having his literary efforts singled out for such attention.

"This may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but I would ask that they reflect and imagine how they would feel if it happened to them, if they had written a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece or gone on a talk radio station or something like that ... how would they feel if they were suddenly confronted with incontrovertible evidence that a federal agency had targeted them to suppress their viewpoint?"

BATF Director Bradley Buckles could not be reached for a comment last week, though the BATF public information office promised someone would call back.


Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
His new book, Send in the Waco Killers is available at $24.95 postpaid from
Mountain Media, P.O. Box 271122, Las Vegas, Nev. 89127; or by dialing 1-800-244-2224

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