How to Read an ATF Press Release: Grenade Launcher Edition

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (and Really Big Fires) is in a never-ending fight to justify its existence. As we’ve reported (equally endlessly), there’s nothing that that ATF does that other local, state, tribal and federal couldn’t do. Do do. To draw attention away from that fact, the ATF releases a steady stream of press releases trumpeting its success as a law enforcement ass-kicker. Taken individually and without scrutiny, the ATF is da bomb (so to speak). Which is exactly how the mainstream media rolls. Google search the names of the men indicted and you’ll see that this ATF press release was republished verbatim across the length and breadth of these here United States. Look closer, as TTAG is wont to do, and the story is not so clear and the agency’s rep not quite so impressive . . .

BIRMINGHAM — A federal grand jury today indicted two Texas men for surreptitiously trying to buy an automatic grenade launcher, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance and ATF Special Agent in Charge Glenn Anderson.

Surreptitiously? You mean they didn’t walk into a U.S. gun dealer and ask for five assault rifles and an automatic grenade launcher?

The indictment filed in U.S. District Court charges ADAM EMMANUEL LEWIS, 27, and ANTONIO RODRIGUEZ-ARELLANO, 25, with conspiring to possess a machine gun that was not registered to either man in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. The men were attempting to buy an MK-19 fully automatic grenade launcher from an undercover agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to the indictment.

Wow! An MK-19? What in the world would these guys want with what wikipedia describes as a “belt fed, blowback operated, air cooled, crew served, fully automatic weapon that . . . fires 40 mm grenades at a cyclic rate of 325 to 375 rounds per minute, giving a practical rate of fire of 60 rounds per minute (rapid) and 40 rounds per minute (sustained)”?

It’s THE question. If Mr. Lewis and Mr. Rodrigues-Arellano were purchasing this fearsome weapon for Mexican drug lords, that represents a major change in the nature and importance of the so-called and unquantified “iron river” of guns smuggled from Bob’s Gun Store to Los Zetas. If the indictees are [imported?] domestic terrorists buying the MK-19 for an attack on Americans, holy cow!

Of course, you’d expect the feds to mention either of those facts—if they were true. It would be major league headline stuff. As they didn’t, one wonders if we’re looking at an ATF “sting.” In other words, my not-so-favorite feds lured Lewis and Rodriguez-Arellano into felonious behavior in order to have “in-house” felonious behavior to stop.

Lewis and Rodriguez-Arellano were looking for a low-key purchase of an illegal grenade launcher, plain and simple, Anderson said. Fortunately, this investigation stopped that from happening. Firearm trafficking cases like this one prevent violence, save lives and keep illegal weapons off the street, he said.

“Plain and simple?” There’s nothing, I repeat not one thing, plain and simple about buying a weapon like the MK-19 grenade launcher. Wikipedia:

Upon impact, the grenade can kill anyone within the radius of five meters, and wound them within the radius of 15 meters. It can also punch through two inches of rolled homogeneous armor with a direct hit (0 Degree Obliquity), which means it can penetrate most infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. It is especially effective when used against enemy infantry formations.

Reading between the lines of the press release, it seems highly likely that the ATF initiated this non-transaction.

According to the indictment, LEWIS’ and RODGRIGUEZ-ARELLANO’s attempts to buy the grenade launcher developed as follows: LEWIS contacted an ATF confidential informant on Nov. 29 to arrange the purchase of an unregistered automatic grenade launcher. On Dec. 3, both LEWIS and RODGRIGUEZ-ARELLANO traveled from Texas to Cullman in an attempt to buy the weapon. In subsequent phone calls from Dec. 3 to Dec. 15, LEWIS and RODRIGUEZ-ARELLANO negotiated the payment and logistics for buying the grenade launcher with an undercover ATF agent.

The release suggests that Lewis and Rodriguez-Arellano just happened to hit up an ATF informant and ask for a weapon of mass destruction, “plain and simple.” If it wasn’t a sting to start, it was to finish. One wonders how many phone calls the ATF had with the indicted men during those 12 days, who initiated the calls and, of course, exactly what was said.

On Dec. 15, RODRIGUEZ-ARELLANO traveled from Texas to Leeds, where he paid the undercover agent about $24,000 for the MK-19 automatic grenade launcher, according to the indictment.

RODRIGUEZ-ARELLANO and LEWIS both were arrested Dec. 15. RODRIGUEZ-ARELLANO was arrested in Leeds and LEWIS was arrested in Texas. The men could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Twenty-four grand is a lot of cash money. Where did it come from? Again, is this part of a larger criminal conspiracy? Plain and simple, the ATF’s silence on the subject is deafening. If it IS part of something bigger (e.g., a planned terrorist attack), five years in the slammer and a $250k fine is a slap on the wrist. So . . . what?

The ATF investigated the case with assistance from the Cullman County Sheriff’s Department Narcotics Enforcement Team. Assistant U.S. Attorney Enid Dean Athanas is prosecuting the case.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment contains only charges. A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.

I can’t remember reading a single ATF press release that didn’t co-credit another law enforcement agency. Which speaks to my point about the law enforcement overlap that defines the ATF, even as it argues against its existence. Anyway, what do narcotics have to do with this?

My guess: Mr. Lewis and Mr. Rodrigues-Arellano were low-level criminals involved in drug smuggling. The ATF used the men to put another scalp on their collective belt. If not, I’m all ears. Meanwhile, members of the public are reminded that the ATF is unnecessary unless proven otherwise. Which it continues to struggle to do, at our expense.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

8 Responses to How to Read an ATF Press Release: Grenade Launcher Edition

  1. avatarRalph says:

    The BATFE brags about arrests, but we never hear anything about convictions. Why dat?

  2. avatarDon Curton says:

    Who doesn’t have a crew-served weapon in their front yard for home defense? I got a quad-50 myself. Jeez.

    I understand that if it is part of a larger plot that they may want to keep some things quiet, but if that’s the case then stop bragging about this arrest. And where is Homeland Defense on this one?

  3. avatarTTACer says:

    $24k for a full-auto grenade launcher? Sign me up! That is the deal of the century. You can’t get a transferable Class III belt fed for that kind of money.

    Or, since Global Security says the unit replacement cost is only $13,500, and had the ATF sting guys actually been illegal arms dealers, they presumably would have stolen it, maybe it is the rip-off of the century?

  4. avatarChris Dumm says:

    How long did it take the ATF to persuade Randy Weaver to find them a sawed-off shotgun? How long did they have to groom and indoctrinate the Portland bomb plot teenager to persuade him to try to blow up a public plaza?

    Aren’t there anough bad guys in the world without the ATFE manufacturing more of them to prosecute?

  5. avatarRalph says:

    The BATFE also announced that Rosie the runaway Newfoundland was part of the plot. She was supposed to bury the grenade launcher in her back yard but was prevented from doing so by the brave Washington police officers who took Rosie on although they were outgunned and out-brained. We can all sleep well tonight.

  6. avatarDan Baum says:

    Then again, maybe ATF discovered two guys trying to buy a really fearsome illegal weapon and, lucky for everybody, busted them before they could do it. Nothing in the press release disproves my admittedly wacky theory.
    The argument that ATF is redundant is interesting and deserves consideration. I encountered that point of view here at TTAG, and have been researching and thinking about it ever since. It’s a bold idea.
    Spinning fantasy around every single thing ATF does, though, is schoolyard nonsense. You have evidence these guys were entrapped? Let’s hear it. Otherwise, why is your version — with no information at all — more valid than ATF’s?

  7. avatarLicensed FFL/SOT says:

    The BATFE did a great job here keeping a powerful weapon out of the hands of some very bad people. Some facts must be withheld to protect the prosecution process, to protect the defendants rights, and protect informants. The BATF is not our enemy. They have a very important responsibility and save innocent lives every day. If a person is repeatedly informed that what they are about to do is illegal and they still do it anyway… who is to blame. When people make mistakes and they end up in prison, lives are affected. When innocent people are killed by ruthless criminals, many lives are affected too. Tell a law enforcement person you appreciate what they do. I don’t believe they get paid enough for what they do.

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