June 29, 2008

ATF Takes Machine Guns From Blackwater in NC

22 fully-automatic assault rifles were confiscated by the BATF from Moyock, NC-based Blackwater Worldwide last week after a story was published in the Raleigh News & Observer questioning an arrangement between the private military contractor and the Camden County, North Carolina Sheriff's Department.

Blackwater financed the purchase of 17 Romanian AK-47s and 17 Bushmaster Bushmaster XM15 E2S for the Sheriff's SWAT team as it was forming in 2005. The Sheriff's Department had requested both weapons systems for trial. After training, deputies determined that the AK-47s did not meet their needs for SWAT use, and since that time, the 17 AK-47s and 5 of the17 XM15 carbines have been stored in a weapons locker dedicated to the Sheriff's Department at Blackwater's training facility armory. The other 12 XM15s are deployed with deputies. The department does not have an armory of it's own. Both the Sheriff's Department and Blackwater insist that the arrangement made three years ago is legal.

Fully-automatic weapons have always been legal to own in the United States according to federal law, though they are prohibited or further restricted in some states. There are more than 240,000 machine guns registered with the BATF as of 1995. Roughly half of those are owned by civilians, and the rest are owned by government entities such as police and sheriff's departments.

As a matter of policy the BATF will not comment on pending investigations, but the most likely cause for the confiscation was the determination by the BATF that the arrangement may have constituted a "strawman" purchase. On the most basic level, a "strawman" occurs when someone who is legally authorized to purchase a firearm knowingly purchases it for someone who they know or suspect cannot buy a firearm on their own. Additional scrutiny applies to the purchase, transfer and possession of machine guns under the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 (FOPA). NFA places a $200 tax on the transfer of firearms, and FOPA banned the possession or sale of machine guns to civilians manufactured after May of 1986.

The BATF may claim that the three-year-old arrangement, where the Sheriff's Department stores their weapons at Blackwater's armory is a violation of the transfer and possession requirements of NFA and/or FOPA. Anne Tyrrell, spokesperson for Blackwater Worldwide, argues that FOPA does not apply "because we never owned the weapons. The Camden County Sheriff's Department own them."

Tyrrell further claims that BATF agents have known of the arrangement with the Camden County Sheriff for an extended period of time, saying via email:

"All aspects of our contract with a local Sheriff's Department are valid and lawful. Some of the same ATF agents involved in the current inquiry have long been aware of this arrangement as a result of visits to our facility and audits of our firearms programs at Blackwater's request. As a company that is fully licensed to sell, provide training on, or even manufacture weapons---including machine guns---we have worked closely with the ATF to ensure we are in compliance with all applicable federal firearms laws. We look forward to cooperating with the government to resolve this allegation."

Pro-Blackwater blog Blackwaterfacts backs Tyrrell, claiming that the AFT did a full inventory of the facility in 2005, including the Camden County Weapons locker, after Blackwater alerted the ATF to two employees that worked in the armory were engaged in illegal activity.

If it is accurate that BATF agents had "long been aware" of the existence of the Camden County Weapons locker at Blackwater, but had not seen fit to confiscate them until now, it suggests that new details may have emerged. That detail may have been provided in articles from the News & Observer and the Elizabeth City, NC-based Daily Advance, which note that in addition to merely storing the Sheriff's Department weapons, they may have been used to train police and military units.

Blackwater, which also manufactures vehicles and airships, is the largest security contractor for the U.S. State Department and operates one of the largest tactical firearms training centers in the world. Critics of the company have attacked it as a mercenary army, and Blackwater security personnel in Iraq have been accused of using excessive force in numerous engagements, including a September 2007 incident in Baghdad's Nisour Square where 17 Iraqi civilians were killed.

correction: Moyock, NC not Mynock, as noted by "EC" in the comments.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 29, 2008 02:31 PM

I smell politics... specifically, lefty anti-war politics.

I could be wrong; I hope I am wrong. But the way the anti-war lefties have treated Blackwater in the past makes the suspicion spring to mind.

Posted by: C-C-G at June 29, 2008 04:28 PM

Is it a legal confication? Probably. But WTF people. Now they don't trust State sanctioned LEOs with select fire weapons? You have got to be kidding me.

For the record. The weapons that were confiscated are not Machine guns by definition.

CCG, I agree I smell politics. Politics do not belong in either law enforcement nor do they belong in the military.

Posted by: Matt at June 29, 2008 04:39 PM

I agree, I bet there is a Democrat Marxist Congressman in the mix somewhere. Payback, a Democrat speciality.

Posted by: bill-tb at June 29, 2008 07:02 PM

"NFA places a $200 tax on the transfer of firearms, and FOPA banned the possession or sale of machine guns to civilians manufactured after May of 1986."

My daughter is a civilian, and she was manufactured -- er, I mean, born -- in May of 1986. Does that mean she can't buy machine guns?

Posted by: Pat at June 29, 2008 10:16 PM

More proof that the ATF needs to be converted into a convenience store.

Posted by: Smarty at June 29, 2008 10:49 PM


Just a correction: BW is based in "Moyock, NC".

Mynock, I believe, is a carnivorous flying creature featured in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back" that chewed on the power cables of the Millenium Falcon while she was put down for repairs in the belly of that huge asteroid worm.

Posted by: EC at June 30, 2008 10:30 AM


You're over 45, aren't you. That was back when Public Schools actually taught writing.

Posted by: Bill Smith at June 30, 2008 01:43 PM