BATF strikes again

[The following article first appeared in The Gun Owner, Volume 13, Number 6, December 1994, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publisher, Gun Owners of America. Permission is granted to reproduce this article by any means, in any media, at any time or place so long as it remains complete and unedited and all attributions are intact. Reprint permission has also been granted by Gun Owners of America and the Lamplughs on these same terms.]

The lives of Harry and Theresa Lamplugh were turned upside down on the morning of May 25, 1994. Early that day, 15 to 20 armed men and women burst into their rural Pennsylvania home. Under the threat of violence, the Lamplughs cooperated completely with the intruders as they opened safes, locks and cabinets. In spite of their compliance, however, Harry and Theresa were treated with contempt. Throughout the ordeal, a fully automatic machine gun was intermittently thrust in both their faces. The Lamplughs watched in horror as the thugs literally trashed their home. Furniture was overturned or smashed and papers were scattered everywhere. Three pet cats were ruthlessly killed--one literally stomped to death. The gang ransacked their home for more than six hours. When they finally left, Harry and Theresa stood confused and angry in the midst of their demolished home.

The brutal and inhumane events that you have just read about are not fiction. They were taken from the testimony of Harry and Theresa Lamplugh. Only the intruders were not some violent street gang members or foreign terrorists; they were agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Internal Revenue Service.

Why would two federal agencies send a small battalion of agents to terrorize this couple in the supposed safety of their home? What terrible crime did Harry and Theresa Lamplugh commit that prompted this brutal six-and-a half hour ordeal? Shockingly, there are no good answers to these questions.

Harry Lamplugh, however, is in the politically incorrect business of promoting gun shows. His organization, Borderline Gun Collectors Association, happens to be the largest gun show promoter in the Northeast. As anyone who has ever attended a gun show knows, there are more than firearms and accessories on display. A gun show is also a place where people of common interests meet to express their political views and share opinions. Not surprisingly, criticism of the BATF runs deep at such a forum. And it is no secret that the BATF spends considerable time and effort infiltrating these shows.

Since gun show infiltration is a massive undertaking that yields relatively small returns, the BATF has now honed in on a primary source, Harry Lamplugh. On May 23, 1994, the agencies obtained a search warrant authorizing both the BATF and the IRS to "search" the Lamplugh home. Included in the list of items to be seized were any firearms, ammunition, holsters, cleaning kits, gun cases and firearms accessories. The Lamplughs' attorney points out that the warrant failed to name even one specific item. "Such warrants are vague, overbroad and therefore unconstitutional," he said.

The agents also seized complete financial and business records of the Borderline Gun Collectors Association from 1988 to the present. This included all computer records and any other documents related to the sale and purchase of firearms. Obviously, the BATF was on some sort of "fishing expedition." But the most amazing aspect of the warrant is what was not on it. There was no reference to any crime by any person. The BATF appears to hold not only the Second Amendment in disdain, but the Fourth as well.

On Wednesday, May 25, 1994, the search warrant was executed. At about eight in the morning, Harry answered a knock on the front door and was instantly surrounded by agents. His wife was in the bathroom at the time. He had been sitting at the kitchen table in a pair of pajama bottoms, having his morning coffee. "Unto this day I don't know exactly how many there were, but they had my house secured in seconds," Harry said.

According to Lamplugh, there were a total of six cars full of agents. They were not dressed in any uniform, and only two had the identifying ATF vests on. All firearms were drawn. An M-P5 machine gun was stuck in Harry's face. They did not announce who they were or why they were there, and no search warrants were displayed. "When I asked if they had a search warrant, their first reply was, 'Shut the fuck up mother fucker; do you want more trouble than you already have?', with the machine gun stuck in my face." Harry said. "They then proceeded to tear my house apart."

The Lamplughs were not permitted to dress all day. "We couldn't even go to the bathroom without an armed guard, as if we were prisoners in our own home," says Mrs. Lamplugh. Then, like a slap in the face, the agents stopped everything to eat lunch. "They gave no thought to what we were going through. Some agents went out for pizza, and they had a little party. It was like a room full of kindergartners with no chaperon. They threw half-emptied soda cans, pizza and pizza boxes everywhere. To some people, maybe it sounds like we're complaining about a small thing, but this is our home and they trashed it."

The agents' reckless conduct at the "pizza party" characterized their behavior throughout the raid. "Because I have cancer, I usually have about 20 bottles of prescription drugs on top of my bureau. For some unknown reason, they thought it necessary to open the bottles and scatter the contents all over the floor. Consequently, two of our cats got into the medication and died horrible deaths."

The agents continued their aimless search. "Where's the machine gun?", one of the agents asked. Finally, an indication they were looking for something in particular. "At first I didn't know what he meant," Harry said. "Then I recalled that I once owned a Vietnam commemorative Thompson, inlaid in 22-karat gold, but that was a semi-automatic. One of the agents then responded, 'That must be what they're talking about.' The agents were apparently looking for something that wasn't even there, or illegal to possess."

However, they were very thorough in sifting through what was there. But for what reason did the agents take marriage and birth certificates, school records, insurance information, vehicle registrations and titles? Harry points out that "they were so thorough that for about two weeks we would have had a hard time proving who we were. They took all of our contacts with newspapers (Over 600), all friends and family phone numbers, and even my medical records." There were 61 firearms and assorted ammo seized in the raid, valued at over $15,000. The agents took about 70,000 names and addresses of exhibitors and also gun show contracts through the year 2000. A stack of mail was opened, read and also confiscated.

Finally, at about three o'clock, the wrecking crew finished their destruction. In one final unconscionable act, female agent Donna Slusser deliberately stomped to death a cherished Manx kitten, and kicked it under a tree.

The affidavit in support of the warrant was made by BATF special agent Scott Endy. For reasons unknown to the Lamplughs, the affidavits were sealed by a local federal judge. An Assistant United States Attorney was asked by the Lamplughs' attorney to unseal the document, but he has steadfastly refused to do so.

The persecution Harry and Theresa have endured has been extremely harsh. At no time was this peaceful couple informed of any violation of the law, and to this day no charges have been brought against the Lamplughs. Yet, the BATF has refused to return any property, even medical records and other personal documents and possessions.

The actions of the men and women who entered the Lamplughs' home must not be ignored or forgotten. The Lamplughs are victims, not suspects, in this matter, and this is but one of the many examples of the BATF's abuse of its power through the years. This government brutality must be stopped.


(Editor's note: This was originally published in December 1994, so it is likely that some of the contact information above is no longer correct.)