Did you know that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (and Really Big Fires) has the power to seize and “administratively forfeit” property involved in suspected drug offenses? Neither did I. “[U.S. Attorney General Eric] Holder temporarily delegated this authority to the ATF on a trial basis in 2013,” cato.org reports, “and today made the delegation permanent while lauding the ATF for seizing more than $19.3 million from Americans during the trial period.” Wait. Can he do that? The Department of Justice certainly (and obviously) thinks so . . .
The DOJ claims this rule change doesn’t affect individual rights (and was thus exempt from the notice and comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act) and that the change is simply an effort to streamline the federal government’s forfeiture process. Those who now stand more likely to have their property taken without even a criminal charge may beg to differ.
Further, the department claims that forcing the ATF to go through a judicial process in order to seize property requires too much time and money. Whereas an “uncontested administrative forfeiture can be perfected in 60-90 days for minimal cost […] the costs associated with judicial forfeiture can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars and the judicial process generally can take anywhere from 6 months to years.” In other words, affording judicial process to Americans suspected of engaging in criminal activity takes too long and costs too much.
Same goes for the process of recovering the booty. This does not bode well for gun owners who may have a bit of weed on them if and when the ATF comes a-calling re: a firearms offense. [Pro-tip: don’t hide a joint in your PDW brace.) Meanwhile, Cato is not happy.
At a time when Attorney General Holder himself has acknowledged the need for asset forfeiture reform, the authorization to take the property of American citizens should be shrinking, not expanding. A country that spoke itself into existence with assertions of the rights to life, liberty, and property can ill afford yet another government agency with the power to seize your property without so much as a criminal charge.
If a Republican takes the White House in 2016, Mister or Madame President should spike the ATF ASAP IMHO. These are the jack-booted thugs the NRA’s been warning you about. [h/t RA]