Politics & Government

ATF drops slogan that offended property rights advocates

WASHINGTON — Federal agents will no longer be carrying pocketknives with a specially engraved training slogan that enraged some gun and property rights activists.

U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, said Friday that his complaints about the slogan — "Always Think Forfeiture" — persuaded the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to end its use on the Leatherman tools handed out to participants in a training program.

A spokesman for the federal agency said the slogan actually had been dropped about two months ago, when other members of Congress complained. The spokesman, Robert Browning, said the agency won't use the slogan in any of its training programs and not just on the pocketknives.

"Because it has caused concern among the public, we are no longer utilizing that slogan in our training sessions," he said.

The phrase was used as part of ATF's training program to teach investigators around the country how to properly seize the assets of the lawbreakers they arrest. The tools were just a reminder for police to "consider seizing a criminal's ill-gotten gains and proceeds," Browning said.

That changed March 19, when an eagle-eyed blogger looking at ATF contracts on a government-purchasing database found an order for 2,000 Leatherman toolkits engraved with the "Always Think Forfeiture" slogan.

The blogger wrote about it on www.freedomsight.net, and the issue took on a life of its own in the blogosphere. Gun owners and private property rights activists seized on the phrase as a sign that the agency was biased toward law-abiding gun owners who might draw the agency's scrutiny.

Some of those activists wrote or called their representatives in Congress. And some of those congressmen, including Sali, called ATF.

"When we first heard about it, it was very difficult to believe," said Sali spokesman, Wayne Hoffman. "It's hard to imagine that a federal agency would have this slogan. I think the reason why Congressman Sali reacted the way we did, is it sends a very, very poor message to law-abiding citizens about their Second Amendment Rights and their private property rights."

The agency will not issue the pocket tools until they've removed the engraving with the now-obsolete phrase, said ATF spokeswoman Debra Satkowiak.

But Browning was quick to point out the merits — and legality — of federal asset forfeiture programs. A report to Congress last year shows the program seized $1.5 billion in assets in the 2007 fiscal year. Money seized in federal forfeitures goes toward U.S. Justice Department operations.

Said Browning: "The program was never intended — nor would it ever be intended — to go after law-abiding gun owners or anything of that nature."