In a bizarre turn of events, a donor to President Donald Trump, Breitbart and part owner of Cambridge Analytica, became a volunteer police officer in Lake Arthur so he could carry a concealed weapon in his New York county that restricts such permits.
An extensive Bloomberg report by Zachary Mider details Mercer’s adventures in the New Mexico town, south of Roswell. The trips and work he did show "just how far a man of means will go to get something he can't buy: the right to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in America."
Mercer refuses to talk to Mider but the reporter took a trip to Lake Arthur to interview the local police, where Mercer became a volunteer police officer. Police Chief William Norwood and three people who work part-time serve as the official law enforcement for a town the population of 433 people. However, they seem to be reinforced by 84 reserve officers, some of whom live hundreds or even thousands of miles from the town. Some are former Navy SEALs, high-dollar bodyguards or firearms instructors. Nearly all are hardcore gun advocates.
In 2004, Congress passed the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act, which allowed police officers to carry concealed guns in any state without a local license. So, being a volunteer police officer for Lake Arthur gave Mercer the right to carry anywhere and everywhere. One place, in particular, is Suffolk County, New York, where Mercer lives. Concealed-carry permits are granted only rarely.
According to Mider's research, any concealed carry licensee is required to prove they face "extraordinary personal danger" to be granted permission to carry. Even with a local permit, however, Mercer wouldn't be allowed to carry in New York City or most other states. The only way Mercer would be able to carry is by using the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. So, he scored a badge and a gun and cut through the red tape and regulations from local legislators.
Despite the law, most police and sheriff's departments around the U.S. aren't willing to hand out a badge to friends or allow wealthy "donors" to purchase one. A few, however, have been what the gun community calls "badge factories." It seems Lake Arthur may have become one. Mider cited a case in which a former reservist from North Carolina, who scored a badge from the small town, shot his brother-in-law in a drunken incident. Norwood took the badge away quickly thereafter.
Mercer officially became an officer to the town on Dec. 10, 2011. Since then, the town has received many generous donations from Mercer and his son-in-law George Wells. One grant went to give Lake Arthur officers a free trip to Las Vegas for "SWAT training." Wells even helped start a reserve officers' association for the department and donated tens of thousands of dollars.
Norwood told Mider his police department wasn't a "badge factory" and claimed it was a "help" to him.
"I’ll tell you that,” he said of the reserve program. “It’s better than going out to a domestic violence call way out in the county all by yourself.”
He refused to speak about any individual reservist, including Mercer and Wells. He claimed that if someone wants a concealed-carry right, doing the 96 hours of patrol work and 20 hours of training annually wouldn't be worth it. While Norwood claimed that his off-duty officers and reservists aren't allowed to use their concealed-carry privileges for outside work, Mider showed him two LinkedIn accounts that showed men doing exactly that. The men were working as private security contractors and touted their ability to carry guns anywhere.
The reserve program began in 2005, just after the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act went into effect. He'd just joined the department and the nearest backup officer was half-an hour or more away. So, he turned to Army friends for help. At one point, he had almost 150 reserve officers, a ratio of one officer to every 2.9 Lake Arthur residents. A reserve captain took over administrative duties in the department and tightened up the policies, cutting the numbers in half. Last year, Norwood stopped accepting new members.
“There may have been some abuses in the past,” said administrator, Oliver Brooks. “But whenever we find out about them, we take action.”
After a formal records request from Bloomberg, Norwood sent documents showing Mercer, Wells and longtime friend Peter Pukish joined the program on the same day in 2011. Mercer left the department last September and Puskin left in February.
Mercer has long invested in guns, including one factory in South Carolina that makes assault-style rifles. He and Wells took it even further when they hooked up with Daniel Shea, a Nevada arms dealer. He reportedly has "a world-class collection of machine guns."