Tuesday, February 26, 2013
ATF Losing the War
The Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, Texas, occurred twenty years ago today, February 28, 1993. This event, and the Ruby Ridge siege, which took place in Idaho six months earlier, August 21 -31, 1992, are perhaps the causes célèbres of the more fanatic of today’s gun rights advocates. The memory of these events and the myths that have grown up around them have hardened the stance of America’s “armed militia” against even the most reasonable of gun control measures, and further, they have made an enemy of the government organization assigned the mission of regulating guns and America’s gun industry, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the Justice Department; an organization whose agents NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre referred to as “jack-booted government thugs.” This is unfortunate, because at the urging of the NRA, Congress has managed to hamstring the ATF and thereby make a mockery of America’s existing gun laws.
The ATF has been in a 40-year losing battle with the gun industry and its loyal supporter, the National Rifle Association. Today’s ATF is leaderless. Ever since 2006, when Congress, at the behest of the NRA, decided that the Senate should have the say-so in who ran the ATF, no nominee has been confirmed, not even George W. Bush’s nominee, Michael J. Sullivan. The NRA claimed Sullivan was “hostile to gun dealers.”
Sullivan’s nomination was blocked by a Senate hold placed by none other than Republican senators David Vitter, best known for his involvement in the 2007 DC Madam scandal, Larry E. Craig, arrested for lewd conduct (“I have a wide stance”) in a Minneapolis-St. Paul men’s room, and Michael Crapo, a professed Mormon, arrested for DUI in 2012 and whose driver’s license is still suspended, along with any action on confirming a permanent head of the ATF.President Obama nominated Andrew Traver to be director of the ATF but that nomination stalled in the Senate last year. Currently the ATF is led by B. Todd Jones as interim director. Obama intends to nominate him to lead the Bureau, but opponents are already lining up against him. In the meantime, he is doing the best he can with the little he’s been given to work with. As Erica Goode and Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in the New York Times, “The agency’s ability to thwart gun violence is hamstrung by legislative restrictions and by loopholes in federal gun laws...For example, under current laws the bureau is prohibited from creating a federal registry of gun transactions.”The ATF must do its work trying to trace guns manually, because the NRA has been nothing less than belligerent in its opposition to the ATF entering the digital age.And the ATF gets short shrift when it comes to funding. Again quoting Goode and Stolberg, "While other law enforcement agencies like the FBI have benefited from greatly increased budgets and staffing, the ATF’s budget has remained largely stagnant, increasing to about $1.1 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from just over $850 million a decade ago.”
The ATF has fewer agents today than it did 4 decades ago. According to Sari Horwitz, writing for the Washington Post, “The agency, which has a budget of about $1.1 billion, is charged with investigating gun trafficking and regulating firearms sales. However, it is able to inspect only a fraction of the nation’s 60,000 retail gun dealers each year, with as much as eight years between visits to stores.”
In an earlier post, I said that for the NRA,” the slaughter of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, along with the 6 adults who tried to protect them, was collateral damage, just as is the 1318 reported gun deaths so far since Newtown.”
That post was way back on January 28, 2013; all of twenty-eight days ago. We’ve had another 953 gun deaths since then, so the count now is 2271. Without an effective ATF, the count will keep going up and up and up, no matter what new laws are introduced.