"A man fires a SIG Sauer P239 at an outdoor shooting range in Nevada." by Noah Wulf licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Man_Firing_SIG_Sauer_P239.jpg

The IRS has stockpiled 4,600 guns and five million rounds of ammunition as of Jan. 1, 2019 according to a report from OpenTheBooks published in 2020. With Democrats calling for $80 billion in additional funding and the hiring of 87,000 new IRS agents, how much will this arsenal grow?

The Democrats’ push to increase the size and power of the IRS has significant criminal justice and basic due process ramifications.

An OpenTheBooks report titled The Militarization of U.S. Executive Agencies shows that, even without the proposed $80 billion increase in funding, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) is already heavily armed at the expense of the American taxpayer. How much larger will this unchecked arsenal get if the agency gets more funding?

The current 4,600-gun stockpile includes 3,282 pistols, 621 shotguns, 539 rifles, 15 fully automatic firearms, and four revolvers.

According to the Government Accountability Office the ammunition breakdown is as follows:

  • Pistol and revolver rounds: 3,151,500
  • Rifle rounds: 1,472,050
  • Shotgun rounds: 367,750
  • Fully automatic firearm rounds: 56,000

When OpenTheBooks asked for an accounting of the IRS gun locker, the agency responded, “We don’t have one [an inventory], but could create one for you, if important.”

There are seven reasons to be concerned about the IRS having more power, more money, and more guns:

1. IRS FAILS TO ENSURE ARMED AGENTS RECEIVE REQUIRED FIREARMS TRAINING

In order to carry or use an IRS-owned weapon, agents must: engage in handgun firing training at least once each quarter, shoot at least the minimum of 75 percentage points on the firearms qualifying test using the issued handgun during two nonconsecutive quarters, participate in biannual firearms building entry exercises, participate in an annual briefing on firearms safety and security policies and CI’s directives and procedures regarding the safe handling and storage of firearms, and participate in a briefing each quarter regarding the policy of discharging a firearm at a moving vehicle. 

CI’s National Criminal Investigation Training Academy (NCITA) is responsible for implementing the formalized firearms training and qualification program nationwide. This includes developing the firearm qualification requirements they are expected to meet and the training special agents will undergo. Despite these requirements, CI agents have regularly failed to stay up to date on training or report incidents, endangering the taxpayers they are supposed to protect. 

According to reports from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA), the IRS has repeatedly failed to ensure that procedures relating to firearms are properly followed:

“there is no national-level review of firearms training records to ensure that all special agents meet the qualification requirements.”

Special agents are required to surrender their weapons when they fail to participate in this training, however this often does not happen.

As noted by the Inspector General:

“However, there is currently little consequence for special agents who fail to meet the training requirements listed on the checklist.”

The Inspector General noted the IRS failed to secure the firearms of those who did not meet their requirements:

“controls did not ensure that CI personnel properly secured firearms when special agents failed to meet the biannual standard qualification requirement. CI was only able to provide evidence that firearms were surrendered in nine of the 27 instances when special agents did not qualify. The Criminal Investigation Management Information System was only updated to reflect the custody change in four of those nine instances.”

The Inspector General noted that the IRS lapses torpedo its ability to effectively try cases:

“Court decisions in the past have held law enforcement entities liable because their law enforcement agents did not have training that reflected the environment that they would likely encounter, such as training involving moving targets and low-light conditions. Other court decisions underscored the importance of properly documenting firearms training. One decision dismissed the claims against a law enforcement entity that maintained thorough records that showed the law enforcement personnel had been trained. Another decision upheld a jury’s conclusion that undocumented police training did not constitute adequate training.”

The IRS failure to conduct proper internal oversight of its weapons could have grave consequences for the public. As noted by the Inspector General:

“If there is insufficient oversight, special agents in possession of firearms who are not properly trained and qualified could endanger other special agents and the public.”

2. IRS AGENTS ACCIDENTALLY FIRE THEIR WEAPONS MORE OFTEN THAN THEY INTENTIONALLY FIRE THEM

A TIGTA report found that special agents at the IRS Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) accidentally fired their weapons more often than they intentionally fired them: 

“According to documentation provided by all 26 CI field offices, the NCITA, and the TIGTA OI, there were a total of eight firearm discharges classified as intentional use of force incidents and 11 discharges classified as accidental during FYs 2009 through 2011.”

3. THE IRS CONCEALS DETAILS OF ACCIDENTAL GUN DISCHARGES

The agency’s lackadaisical approach to firearm safety has led to easily preventable accidents. The Inspector General cryptically references IRS accidental discharges that caused “property damage or personal injury”:

“In three of the four accidental discharges that were not reported, the accidental discharges may have resulted in property damage or personal injury.”

The details of these incidents are — for some reason — redacted in the report: 

IRS-CI management is required to be notified when a special agent discharges their weapon. CI must report all accidental discharge incidents externally to the TIGTA OI and internally to the NCITA and the Director of Field Operations. Despite these directives, CI did not always properly disclose accidental discharges:

“we found that four accidental discharges were not properly reported. This included two that were not reported to both to the TIGTA OI and the NCITA, one that was not reported to the TIGTA OI, and one that was not reported internally to the NCITA.”

4. IRS AGENTS DID NOT ALWAYS UNDERGO REMEDIAL TRAINING AFTER DISCHARGES DUE TO AGENT NEGLIGENCE 

Compounding their mistakes, agents did not always provide remedial training when an accidental discharge occurred. Even when they did undergo training, the standards remained wildly inconsistent. The Inspector General found that:

“two of the four use of force coordinators stated that they may require the special agent to participate in some type of remedial training, one stated that the special agent would be counseled, and one stated that there would be no additional training required.”

5. THE IRS HAS A HISTORY OF VIOLATING BASIC DUE PROCESS RIGHTS

In a 2017 report, the IRS-CI was shown to have regularly violated taxpayers’ rights and skirted or ignored due process requirements when investigating taxpayers for allegedly violating the existing $10,000 currency transaction reporting requirements.  

TIGTA found that only 8 percent of investigations uncovered violations of tax law. In many cases, IRS-CI had not considered reasonable explanations from those investigated, property owners were not adequately informed of their rights nor informed of seizure of their property, and outcomes in cases lacked consistency, violating the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. 

6. IRS HAS APPALLING EVIDENCE STORAGE HABITS

The IRS Criminal Investigation Division (IRS-CI) was repeatedly found to leave critical evidence sitting around in break rooms, hallways and stacked outside cubicles, according to a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA). In addition, the report found that CI offices did not maintain an Evidence Access Control Log to record access to areas where evidence is stored:

During our walkthroughs at the CI offices, we observed that some sites had evidence placed in hallways, stacked outside cubicles, and in break rooms.  In addition, seven of the nine offices did not keep grand jury material in a separate, secure area.  The grand jury material was intermingled with non-grand jury evidence and other case file information.

The agency’s careless approach to evidence storage has grave ramifications, as noted by the Inspector General:

In order for a seized item to be admissible as evidence, it is necessary to prove that the item is in the same condition as when it was seized.  If evidence is not stored properly, evidence may have been inappropriately disclosed, lost, tampered with, or stolen.  In addition, the chain of custody could be called into question, which could result in the item being deemed inadmissible in court.

The report suggests the IRS is an outlier in terms of its sloppy handling of evidence, compared to other federal law enforcement agencies:

In addition, we interviewed representatives from two other Federal law enforcement agencies to gain an understanding of how they maintained their chain of custody.  It was apparent from these interviews that both Federal agencies have an extensive chain of custody process.  For example, each agency limits access to the locked evidence room, which is maintained by an evidence custodian.  If evidence needs to be removed from the room, an agent must gain access through the evidence custodian and a record of that access is maintained.  This process helps ensure that evidence does not become lost or misplaced and helps keep the chain of custody from being broken.

Each IRS-CI special agent has the authority to investigate, inquire, and receive information. Of the investigative techniques available to agents, one of the most frequently used is the authority to conduct searches and issue search and seizure warrants.

The Federal Government is responsible for properly maintaining the chain of custody for any seized items. CI agents must be able to prove it is the same item that was seized and that the item is in the same condition as when it was seized in order for that seized item to be admissible as evidence.

Grand jury-related evidence must be kept separate from other non-grand jury evidence. Despite these clear directives, the CI has routinely ignored protocol, violating the rights of the taxpayers they are supposed to protect. 

7. IRS HAS CONDUCTED MANY ARMED RAIDS ON INNOCENT AMERICANS

In the late 1990s, the IRS came under scrutiny for the harsh tactics it used to enforce the tax code. With tens of billion in new funding, it is not hard to see how these abuses could return. 

A 1998 article by Washington Post noted many small business owners were harassed by the IRS, only for the agency to find no evidence of wrongdoing:

“An Oklahoma tax-return preparer, a Texas oilman and a Virginia restaurateur told lawmakers how raiding parties of armed agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Division barged into their homes or offices, frightened their employees and families — and ultimately came up empty-handed.”

“Two of the men said they later found that former employees had precipitated the raids, and that the IRS had done little or no checking on their informants’ credibility. The third witness said he never could determine why he was targeted.”

One man described over a dozen armed IRS officials raiding his offices, seizing business documents, and harassing clients and employees: 

“Richard Gardner, whose company prepares 4,500 to 6,000 tax returns each year, said that one morning in 1995, he was called out of a meeting. He found 15 IRS agents and a half-dozen U.S. marshals in his lobby, “all armed and wearing those jackets that say in bright letters IRS’ or U.S. Marshal’ on the back.”

“They seized his client records, computers, personal papers and other files, he said, and held them for two years while the IRS investigation continued. Gardner was able to buy new computers and continue in business, but the damage to his business was extensive. He said IRS agents went to clients and demanded they wear hidden microphones when meeting with Gardner; they hauled his wife before a grand jury; and his employees were told they would be able to buy his business cheaply because he would be out of business soon.”

These were not isolated cases. A 1998 article by the New York Times described “military style raids” by IRS agents against taxpayers who were accused of nonviolent behavior. 

The Senate Finance Committee held a series of IRS oversight hearings in 1998. Among many witnesses to abuses carried out by armed IRS agents, a Virginia restaurant owner testified the following on April 29, 1998:

“Armed agents, accompanied by drug-sniffing dogs, stormed my restaurants during breakfast, ordered patrons out of the restaurant, and began interrogating my employees.

The IRS impounded my records, my cash registers, and my computers.”

“When the raid occurred at my home, the front door was torn from the hinges, my dogs were impounded, along with my safe and 12 years of my personal income tax returns and supporting documents.”

“While my restaurant and my home were being raided by armed agents of the Internal Revenue Service, a raid was also being conducted on the home of my manager. In that raid, my manager was pulled at gunpoint from the shower and forcibly restrained while he attempted to call an attorney. His teen-aged son was knocked to the floor.

His daughter, 14 years old at the time, had several friends over for a slumber party the night before. These young girls had to get dressed under the watchful eye of male agents, despite the presence of female agents. The IRS agent stood in the doorway to the bedroom, gun drawn, refusing these young girls even a semblance of privacy. We were never charged with any crimes.”

Giving more money, power and guns to an agency with a terrible firearms safety record and a terrible due process record is alarming to law-abiding Americans.