The Merger

Merging ATF with the FBI will lead to better enforcement of our gun laws.

Merging ATF With The FBI Will Lead To Better Enforcement Of Our Gun Laws

A new report out today from the Center for American Progress finds that the challenges facing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as it attempts to fulfill its mission of enforcing gun laws and regulating the gun industry are so deeply ingrained, and the agency so politically vulnerable, that ATF should cease to operate as a standalone law enforcement agency and should instead be merged into the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

ATF currently faces a number of serious challenges as the primary federal enforcer of gun laws. Before August 2013, the ATF worked for seven years without a confirmed director, because of the refusal of gun lobby allies in the Senate to confirm any nominee to the position, and now the Bureau finds itself without a permanent leader once again. In addition, ATF is staring at a serious lack of funding, burdensome restrictions and jurisdictional conflict and overlap with the FBI. A merger would strengthen enforcement of our gun laws and increase efficiency.

Another significant part of the ATF’s current challenges is the fact that the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), has undertaken a 30-year campaign to weaken and undermine the agency. These efforts include:

  • A demonstrated campaign of vilifying ATF agents as “jack-booted thugs” and wanting to “attack law abiding citizens” after the flawed operations in Waco and Ruby Ridge.
  • Enacting more than a dozen budget riders severely limiting ATF’s ability to collect data and conduct oversight of gun dealers and illegal firearms.
  • Exercising a near absolute veto over every nominee for director of ATF following a successful lobbying effort to require that nominees receive Senate confirmation.

The NRA likes to talk a big game about how we don’t need more gun laws, but better enforcement of existing ones. Yet this rhetoric is belied by their consistent opposition to allowing agencies like ATF to enforce existing gun laws and do their jobs. If they are honest about stronger enforcement, the recommendation proposed in CAP’s report is worth serious consideration. But in response to the CAP proposal, the NRA shot back that “[r]egardless of where ATF is located, the reality is that nothing will change until we have a president who respects the Second Amendment.” Rather than standing for fair-minded reform and working towards better gun safety, the NRA is once again more concerned with posturing against the current administration and undermining enforcement.

BOTTOM LINE: ATF is an important tool in the fight for gun safety. Every day, thousands of the Bureau’s dedicated agents and civilian staff fight to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. Merging ATF with the FBI would strengthen these efforts, solve persistent leadership and resource challenges, and increase efficiency. With 33 Americans murdered each day with guns, it is time to think big about how best to enforce gun laws and reduce gun violence.

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