Stag Arms: Villain Or Victim?

For those of you who have been following the news, the recent announcement by Stag Arms about their plea deal with the ATF is unsurprising.  For those of you that haven’t been paying attention, here’s a basic rundown:

Stag is a true niche manufacturer.  They assemble the only version of the AR-15 presently on the market that’s designed for left-handers, specifically for people who are left-eye dominant.  The only weapon they construct is the AR-15.  A large percentage of their sales have been to law enforcement personnel for professional use; they are also widely popular among lefties in the hunting and collecting communities.

Quite some time ago, apparently during a routine inspection, several incomplete weapon receivers were discovered in a company warehouse.  They didn’t have the required serial numbers or licenses; according to company management, it was a part of a business deal that had fallen through, and they were storing the things until they could figure out what to do with them.  (There was also a single weapon receiver registered to a police department somewhere; presumably it was there for repair but without the records who can know for sure?)

This is a criminal offense, of course; there’s a huge weight of supervisory regulation in place to deal with this sort of thing.  Massive fines have been levied as punishment, and more tellingly, Stag has lost their license to produce firearms as a result.  The owner is compelled to sell his business (likely at a loss) or shut down completely.  In the latter case, his employees will all lose their jobs.  In either event, he’s plead out to a personal criminal charge in addition to the above as part of the deal to keep his company going while they’re setting up the sale.

Bear in mind here:  This is a consequence of what is seemingly a paperwork error.  I won’t go so far as to say that shutting down the entire business as a result of a single lapse is excessive; for one thing, we don’t know enough about this case to judge.  Criminal investigations are kept private for a good reason.  For another thing, these laws are pretty important, and they ought to be taken seriously; the last thing we need is high-quality machine guns in the hands of inner-city gangbangers.

However.

Yes, the letter of the law is important, but are we really justified shutting down a solid business for a single paperwork error?  There’s twenty-odd employees that work for these people, not to mention innumerable suppliers and small parts manufacturers.  Oh, and it’s domestic manufacture; these guns are made entirely in the USA.

The company has been in business for eleven years, and they fill a necessary role in the market.  They do excellent work; their product is extremely reliable, their customer service is beyond reproach, and they go out of their way to provide satisfaction.  From a political standpoint, their website is entirely neutral; they have options for every state’s unique approach to firearms laws, and they make no comment about any of them.

I can’t tell you for sure whether the gossip is true, that they’re being railroaded on a technical paperwork violation purely because of anti-gun sentiment in the federal administration.  It seems plausible enough, but on the other hand, the case file isn’t open; from a factual standpoint, it’s possible that there was something more serious going on to which we are not privy.

What I can tell you is that, from a customer’s perspective, this operation is run very honestly, honorably, and professionally.  Given the nature of their production line, it would be extremely unlikely for there to be any wholesale criminal activity, and selling illicit machine guns one at a time would be such a low-profit high-risk sideline that it would be almost unimaginably stupid.  It would be akin to counterfeiting one dollar bills.

The AR-15.

I know some of the people reading this are probably of the opinion that nobody needs to own an AR-15 anyway.  It’s kinda high-tech for a hunting rifle, and it’s not terribly useful for home defense.  Personally, I’m too cheap to buy one myself, but I can see the attraction of carrying something light, reliable, and convenient with me on a deer hunt.

Because that’s really what this gun is.  Oh, it looks a lot like the gun a soldier in a movie or video game would carry, but the AR-15 isn’t a machine gun.  It’s just a high-end firearm with a very sexy look to it.  It’s compact, lightweight, and very efficient, but the practical difference between this and granddad’s lever-action 30-06 is pretty minor.

(If there was someone shooting at me and I had to choose who, I’d pick a gangbanger with an AR-15 over granddad with a 30-06 any day of the week.  I know which of the two is more likely to hit what he’s aiming at.)

But the fact remains that manufacturing AR-15s is not a criminal act.  It’s perfectly legal, and there is a legitimate market for the product.  It’s not like these guys were making machine guns for gangbangers; these are rifles, useful for hunting, and it would take a lot of time in a serious machine shop to turn them into anything else.

They are no more an automatic weapon than is any cop’s handgun.

Having said this, there exist variants built on the AR-15 frame that can be constructed for full-automatic fire.  These are restricted weapons, for sale to specific law enforcement units within the country or, occasionally, for the militaries of foreign governments.  The original ArmaLite pattern was designed for automatic fire, in fact, and was the basis for the M-16 used by the US Army for so many years.  However, the civilian variant (by far the most popular production model) is substantially different and cannot easily be converted.

The bottom line.

Mark Malkowski, president of Stag Arms LLC, is pleading guilty to recordkeeping violations.  He’s losing his company and livelihood, and he’s facing a big fine.

These records are pretty important; it’s the mechanism we use to keep gun manufacturers from violating the law by selling machine guns to individuals, any guns to felons, weapons to unfriendly foreign governments and organizations.  So it’s reasonable that there might be a prosecution here, if only to encourage other small manufacturers to toe the line (or at least to appear to).

But there’s a very good chance that the prosecution was influenced by political factors, and that’s never a good thing.

What seems worse to me is this:  We’ve got serious problems with firearms control.  Weapons get into the hands of felons, drug dealers, gang members — it happens all the time.  Military weapons are sold wholesale to rogue states and members of terror groups.  This prosecution does nothing to restrict or even discourage that sort of thing.

We can all agree that there are people who shouldn’t own guns, especially the sort of high-quality reliable and accurate firearm that Stag Arms is known for.  But that doesn’t seem to be what happened.  Nobody at Stag armed the Crips or the Bloods, or sold to Daesh, or went out and shot up a school or a movie theater.

This is a prosecution for paperwork errors.  It will cost one man his livelihood and possibly some jail time, and it may cost a lot of very skilled workers their jobs.  It removes one of the few quality manufacturers from the field, one of the very few who seem to believe more in public safety than in their bottom line.  This seems to be the epitome of oppression by bureaucracy, and it’s very possible that the prosecution is motivated largely for political reasons.

I ask you:  Is this really what America ought to be about?

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7 comments

  1. My understanding was that Stag Arms was found in possession of 62 select-fire receivers that were either registered to a different entity or weren’t registered at all. Not semi-auto AR-15 receivers, but select-fire receivers (which Stag Arms manufactures for law enforcement and military contracts). That puts this into a bit of a different category of screw-up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe you’re correct in point of fact; given the circumstances (as I understand them; I’ve been unable to verify) I’m not certain that there’s a major categorical difference.

      Imagine: 62 items, each with a replacement cost of $300 or so, and they came from overseas. The deal falls through, but you can’t ship them back (shipping weapons overseas is problematic, for good reason) and if you destroy them there’s a liability issue (after all, they belong to someone else).

      Yes, the laws are there for a reason, but in a case like this there really ought to be more flexibility in their interpretation.

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  2. OK, I’m going to throw my two cents into the ring, just to mix my metaphors. I understand your points and agree mildly with them, but I’ll take the other side on this.

    The overarching reason for the bureaucracy here is safety and oversight. Lack of registration and chain of ownership on these guns are missing. Flagrant foul and, since I lack the necessary knowledge of this particular sub-industry but obvious from the story-line, game over.

    On another note: google searches indicate about 3,000 guns were seized? The immediately following section is a quote from a blog I found which sounds reasonable:
    “In August, Stag Arms claimed two separate reasons for the missing serial numbers: the employee who normally engraves the numbers was on vacation, and the unserialized gun parts were sometimes used as replacements for ones that came off the line broken, according to documents filed by the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut. Either way, both reasons given by Stag Arms would violate federal law, the U.S. Attorney wrote, because all gun parts must be stamped with serial numbers within seven days of their manufacture. … The idea that a major manufacturer would have thousands — thousands — of firearms just lying around the shop without a serial number for an indeterminate amount of time is mind-boggling.” [http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2015/05/foghorn/breaking-atf-seizes-3000-guns-from-stag-arms/]

    You are saddened, it seems, more about the demise of the business and the loss of jobs? Then I have good news. Assuming the business does get sold, then the owner of the new business will probably keep the overwhelming majority of employees, since they know how the heck this business is run. I was unable to determine from a quick search of the website how many employees we are talking about.

    Even if this business goes bust, some other entrepreneur will quickly jump into the niche, employing some other people instead. Short term pain, and not ideal … but life isn’t fair, Highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not convinced that any news from a site with a name like “thetruthaboutguns.com” is necessarily reliable, much less non-partisan. Granting it for the moment, however, I’m fairly sure that the shop was locked up at night, and that the thousands of unassembled firearms parts were in no real danger of getting into the hands either of gangbangers or some nasty foreign power. And, on the off chance they were, the absence of serial numbers would have very little to do with whether they might possibly be used to kill someone we care about.

      My point is not that Stag Arms did everything properly. It’s apparent that they didn’t. On the other hand, should we really jail people for paperwork errors that never actually caused harm to anyone?

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      1. I understand the point about the website name; VaxTruth and other ilk justly demand a bit of skepticism. I poked around that blog enough to be content it was a reasonable quote, and it was only the first of many to also indicate 3000+ guns were un-serialized.

        I differ that allowing that many receivers to remain without serial numbers is as benign as you make it. If this owner were as stand-up as you seem to wish him to be, AND wants to remain in business, you just don’t do that. Just as with conflict of interest (where avoiding the appearance of COI is as important as the COI itself), in such a business where one has to serialize gun parts within one week, you just do it. 3,000+ parts left undone speaks to poor business habits OR the appearance of skirting the law for base motives. And neither possibility makes me feel the owner should be let off.

        You ask if we should jail people for paperwork errors? My answer is that if the paperwork error carries a legislative or Code penalty requiring a sentence, then yes.This IS a larger burden than forgetting to mark male or female on a drivers license.

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      2. And there our opinions differ, but it’s a fine point. Your reasoning seems sound; I would venture that mine does as well.

        Please correct me if you disagree, but it seems to me that our difference lies in three points:
        (1) Factual: 3,000 guns or 62 parts of guns
        (2) Ethical: Are the laws appropriate?
        (3) Moral: To what extent should the laws in question be enforced in this instance?

        (1) According to the prosecution, the main issue was 62 automatic receivers. These are not firearms in fact; they are parts that are regulated as though they are complete firearms, but when disassembled they are inert metal. There may additionally have been several hundred or thousand non-automatic receivers or receiver parts, but those were not at issue in the recent prosecution, so I personally have no firm information about them. There’s no picture; there’s no court document. Therefore, I presently choose to view them as non-germane — though if they did actually exist and are introduced into evidence, my opinion on that matter may change.

        Still, 62 is plenty. As I recall, the judgment was rendered on 1.

        (2) I contend that very few laws should exist that punish people who have caused no harm, and who are not in the process of causing harm. In an instance such as this, I believe a simple fine should be sufficient punishment, and that punitive measures such as jail time and depriving the man of his livelihood seem excessive to an absurd degree. You mention motive; I counter that motive is subjective, and that my view of the man through his previous activity is far different.

        (3) I contend that some laws should not be enforced. Many exist that are unjust or ineffective, including almost every mandatory minimum sentencing law. In this case, I believe the punishment is excessive.

        You state that any error that carries an associated penalty under code ought to be punished. I disagree vehemently. Many activities are nominally illegal but ought never be punished. In my opinion, honest mistakes in paperwork and reasonable delays in bookkeeping compliance fall into that category.

        The alternative, logically, would include such items as this: Every motor vehicle should be equipped with devices that limit the maximum speed at which that vehicle can operate to one commensurate with the posted speed limit on any given road. This would prevent all speeding. This is good because speeding is illegal, because automobiles are inherently dangerous (even deadly), and because we need to be protected from the consequences of foolish actions.

        Such impositions are often unsafe, frequently unnecessary, usually ineffective, and contrary to the principles of a free society.

        Just because something is illegal does not mean it’s wrong. Just because an action is illegal does not mean that it should be punished. Just because someone does something stupid, it’s no reason to ruin that person’s life.

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  3. While this is bad news for Stag Arms, it is ironic that this is the same BATFE that was investigated for supplying Mexican drug cartels with fully automatic weapons in its failed “Fast & Furious” program. Just like the IRS, it is easy to go after small businesses when they screw up. In the grand scheme of things, Stag Arms is a small business out of the total number of AR15 manufacturers. It’s perfectly fine for the White House to run automatic weapons and explosives through Benghazai (headed to Syria) in the name of diplomacy. When does ISIS have U.S. weapons? Hmm…Stag Arms screwed up for sure – but lets not forget the real criminals wear expensive suits – sadly often decorated with an American flag lapel pin. The difference is that Stag Arms didn’t kill anyone.

    Like

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