The National Rifle Association, sensing a receptive mood in the White House, is launching a nationwide effort to abolish the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with the aid of a half-hour television documentary that characterizes the agency as abusive government storm troopers.
The $80,000 movie, narrated by Rick Jason, star of the old "Combat" television series, includes one segment in which Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) describes ATF as a "jack-booted group of fascists who are . . . a shame and a disgrace to our country."
Scenes in the movie, which repeatedly asserts that any innocent American could be the next ATF target, include:
A salesman in New York City who says he was dragged from his car and pistol-whipped by ATF agents who mistakenly believed he was an illegal gun trafficker.
A disabled veteran from New Hampshire hwo says he lost his business and his home because of charges brought by the ATF. A federal judge later dismissed the charges and called the case a travesty.
A former Montgomery County policeman convicted of selling guns illegally who claims he was framed.
A New Mexico couple who say they spent their life savings defending themselves from an ATF undercover scheme that ended with their acquittal.
Tucked between these persons' stories are comments from congressmen and lawyers condemning the 1968 federal Gun Control Act and the ATF, which enforces it.
The movie has outraged and frightened ATF Director Glenn R. Dickerson, who previewed the film for the first time last week without the NRA's knowledge and described it as grossly misleading.
"I think the movie is garbage," Dickerson said in an interview. "But if they really push this as they can do . . . with a massive public affairs campaign, I think it is very likely that they may indeed put ATF out of business."
Dickerson said he has corrected all the problems that the NRA spotlights in the film. "The NRA knows that," he said. "To come along with that film at this time when they know that I have corrected situations which they thought were improper to me is extremely disappointing."
"Sixty-seven percent of the persons we arrest on gun charges have prior criminal records.It could be murder, bank robbery or extortion. That disputes the claim that we only aim our resources at little, innocent law abiding citizens," Dickerson said. "The people we arrest are involved in narcotics, organized crime and outlaw motorcycle gangs. They are not the type of people that are shown on that film."
Created in the 1920s to track down moonshiners, the ATF began to shift its emphasis to guns in the early 1970s when soaring sugar prices shut down most stills. The NRA claims that ATF, fearful that it might be put out of business, is worried more about making large numbers of arrests than really concentrating on guns used by criminals.
Dickerson acknowledged that he is paranoid about his agency being disbanded. A report by the Heritage Foundation prepared for President Reagan in February suggested dismantling ATF. Instead, Reagan cut the agency's 1982 budget from $160 million to $150 million, reducing employes from 3,500 to 3,200.
The film, which is entitled "It Can't Happen Here!" has not been released. NRA hopes to begin showing it Aug. 1.
WTTG-TV (Channel 5) the Meetromedia station here, declined to run the film. Pat Pattison, the station's promotions director, said station managers refused because in their opinion the film contained old material and was not balanced.
Each of the persons spotlighted in the movie has told his story before, either at congressional hearings arranged last year by NRA-supported congressmen or through NRA literature.
The NRA has helped pay elgal fees for some of those persons and a lawyer identified in the film as an expert on ATF atrocities is also a paid consultant to the NRA, something the film does not mention.
ATF also is releasing through the federal Freedom of Information Act transcripts of secret tape recordings made by undercover agents. The transcripts were not accepted as evidence in one of the cases mentioned in the film, but they show the victims making racial slurs, using profanity and discussing ways guns are sold illegally. The NRA claims ATF is guilty of character assassination by releasing the tapes.
The film begins with Frank Chismar, a New York City stereo salesman, asserting that he was savagely beaten in 1978 when ATF agents, who mistook him for an illegal gun dealer, forced him off the road and jerked him from his car.
After Chismar's chilling account, the film's narrator tells viewers, "What happened to Frank Chismar, could happen to anyone. It could happen to you!"
"It was a case of mistaken identity," Dickerson said in response, "which for God's sake is a bad situation, but mistaken identity does happen. The altercation, however, was provoked by Chismar and not the agents." He said four federal agencies have investigated Chismar's complaints and found no wrongdoing on the part of the officers.
The next person in the film is Dave Moorehead, a disabled Vietnam veteran and New Hampshire gun shop owner who was accused in 1975 of illegally owning an unregistered M14 machine gun.
With tears forming in his eyes, Moorehead recalls how ATF agents pushed their way into his home, handcuffed him, and confiscated his gun shop's entire inventory -- including dozens of rifles stored there by a local Boy Scout troop.
In the film, Janet Moorehead claims her husband required medication because he was so upset about the arrest. With no stock and no money to buy new inventory, Moorehead was forced to auction off his shop and sell his home to pay creditors and hire a lawyer.
A federal judge dismissed the case against Moorehead and apologized to him.
Dickerson said that ATF no longer automatically prosecutes machine gun owners, unless they have criminal records.
The next testimonial in the film comes from Richard Boulin, a former Montgomery County policemen arrested in 1977 and convicted of selling guns illegally.
Boulin claims the guns he sold were from his private collection and did not have to be reported like guns he bought to sell as a business. ATF claimed in court that Boulin used his gun dealer's license to obtain firearms at a discount and then sold them at gun shows without registering them as required by the 1968 law. The case is being appealed.
The last to be spotlighted in the film are Paul and Billie Hayes, who were acquitted in 1978 of selling guns illegally to an undercover agent. ATF arrested the Hayeses at their Basque Farms, N.M., shop on charges they sold guns to out-of-state buyers. An undercover agent from outside New Mexico asked Hayes to sell him a pistol. Hayes refused. The agent returned with a friend who showed Hayes a New Mexico driver's license. Hayes sold the gun to the friend.
The NRA and Hayes say the ATF entrapped them.
Dickerson says that on five occasions agents bought guns from Hayes after Hayes told the agents how to beat the law. "This was not entrapment. There are very close rules on entrapment, our people are trained in those rules because we know that every damn case we make is going to be scrutinized by the NRA," Dickerson said.