Hill (CNSNews.com) - Prior to the
capture of "Beltway Sniper" suspects John Allen Muhammad and
John Lee Malvo, an unconfirmed number of Maryland gun owners received
surprise visits from the FBI as part of the investigation. One such gun
owner had a surprise of his own for the agents when they arrived at his
Jeff Brown of Gaithersburg, Md., was "a little nervous" when he heard the voicemail message from an FBI agent on the sniper task force who wanted to "visit" Brown at his home to check a .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle Brown purchased in 1993. Adding to that apprehension was the fact that Brown owns and drives a full-sized white panel van, the type of vehicle investigators believed the sniper was driving.
"I expected, actually, to be pulled over and spread-eagle on the street at some point," Brown told CNSNews.com Monday. "When he called, I knew their database had had a double hit. A white van and a .223 rifle? I knew they were coming."
In a subsequent telephone conversation, Metzger reportedly told Brown that agents merely wanted to verify the serial number of the rifle and confirm that it was, in fact, still physically in Brown's possession. The two scheduled an appointment to accomplish those goals.
But Brown later learned that the agents had tried at least once to make an unannounced visit, and only called because they were unable to catch him at home.
"Once I told some of my friends in the pro-gun community what was happening, they began to relate some stories to me about guys having their guns confiscated, for so-called 'ballistic fingerprinting,' and not getting their guns back," Brown explained. "I became alarmed."
Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said the attitude of the federal agents comes as a result of "years of accepting gun control as somehow useful for solving crimes."
"The [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] went to the stores and got the lists of gun owners that had something that could fire a .223. But, it didn't solve the crime," Pratt noted. "The only reason we find that gun registration is 'useful' is for confiscation."
FBI Agents 'Were Not Happy'
Brown's apprehension prompted him to contact an attorney, who instructed him on preparing for the visit. So, when FBI Special Agent Greg Metzger and his partner arrived at Brown's home for their scheduled meeting, they were greeted by Brown and his wife, Mary, along with reporters and photographers from various media outlets.
As Brown described the situation, the agents were "a little bit miffed."
"They were not happy," he observed. "They just were not interested in being around any cameras."
The agents asked Brown to step outside the home, away from the television crew, to talk.
"Can we, uh ... come here," one of the agents said to Brown. Obliging, Brown stepped away from the door to speak with the agents, but still within view of the camera.
Brown began recapping the agreement he had made with Special Agent Metzger. But when one of the agents realized Brown was wearing a wireless microphone, he stopped the conversation short.
"Do you have a microphone on?" the agent asked as he reached toward the microphone clipped to Brown's shirt. Brown backed away and continued talking, but the agent interrupted him again.
"Can you do me a favor?" the agent asked. "Can you take the apparatus off that you have on? I'd like to speak to you privately."
Brown complied, but only after summoning his wife to serve as a witness to the conversation with the agents. Out of the camera's view, and believing they could not be heard, the agents challenged Brown about the presence of the media.
"They were belligerent, at that point, with me. They weren't threatening me or pushing me around or touching me or anything like that, but their mannerisms and attitude quickly became offended and belligerent," Brown recalled. "I was thinking to myself, 'See, this is what I was afraid would happen if you guys came into my house, especially if I was alone.'"
'Don't You Know People Are Dying?'
Parts of the conversation picked up by the camera's long-range microphone confirm Brown's account of what happened next.
"Why didn't you give us a chance to do what we said we were going to do instead of ambushing us with the media? Why didn't you trust us?" one agent asked.
Brown said it was not so much the words the agents used, as their attitude and body language that made him uncomfortable.
"There was some lecturing about it," he said recalling one comment that did unnerve him.
"One thing they said was, 'Don't you know people are dying and we're just trying to do our job?'" Brown recalled, "Of course, the inference was that I didn't care that there were people dying and I was trying to interfere with them doing their job."
During that conversation, the agents reportedly admitted that they had seized other rifles, allegedly with permission, to compare them to the ballistic evidence gathered from the crime scenes.
"They said, from some people, they do 'request' to take the gun with them and do 'ballistic fingerprinting,' as they call it," Brown recalled. "I just did not want to have my gun disappear."
Pratt believes the agents "developed an attitude," because Brown challenged their attempts to violate his constitutional rights.
"The FBI is trying to put this guy on a guilt trip because he's 'not cooperating' with the system but it's a totally useless system," Pratt argued. "They just assume that gun owners [are] all a bunch of suspects just for being gun owners and they should behave accordingly."
'They Were Doing It On Purpose'
At the request of Special Agent Metzger, Brown instructed the media to stay outside his home, where they could see what was happening through a plate glass window. Brown had the unloaded weapon displayed in plain sight for the inspection.
The agents followed Brown and his wife inside and confirmed the serial number on the rifle as they had said they wanted to do. But that was not the end of the encounter.
"After they checked, they started [questioning Brown again], and that's when my wife stepped in and told them to leave," Brown said, noting that his wife formerly worked in law enforcement.
Mary Brown believed the agents were attempting to agitate her husband, hoping he would say or do something to justify their confiscation of his rifle.
"I could tell that they were doing it on purpose and I didn't like what they were doing to you," she told her husband. "So, I decided to just jump right in."
The agents left the couple's property, as they were ordered to do.
Jeff Brown does not believe the agents' reaction to the presence of the media, or their "brow-beating" tactics were justified.
"I'm not here to make them feel happy. I have to make sure my rights are not violated. I wanted to help, but this is not Nazi Germany," he explained. "I looked [Metzger] right in the eye and said ... 'I don't care whether you're upset about being ambushed by the media. I felt I needed some witnesses here with me.'"
Brown, a member of the National Rifle Association and former candidate for public office in Maryland, was also upset by what he perceived as a lack of honesty on the part of the FBI.
"[Metzger] wasn't upfront with me, and I didn't have any guilty feelings about [contacting the media]," Brown said. "They weren't truthful with me. They didn't tell me all the truth. They only told me the part they wanted to hear."
A Message to Gun Owners?
Debbie Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI, said the bureau would not respond to any questions about the encounter, because the probe into the multiple murders was still in progress.
"We're not going to be able to get into any kind of a dialogue with you regarding any aspect of our investigation," she said.
Pratt believes the response of the agents to the presence of the media shows that their main focus was not on finding the "Beltway Sniper," but rather on sending a message to gun owners.
"They know it's not about crime control because, if they were really interested in finding the perpetrator they would have kept moving. Obviously this guy wasn't the guy," Pratt concluded. "What it's really all about is showing that the feds are in control in a very totalitarian sense of the word."
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