The Center for American Progress released an almost 200-page document arguing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should merge with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Basically, the authors of the report start out by acknowledging what we all know to be true about the ATF, it’s an incompetent federal agency with a history of scandal and gross mismanagement, from the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993 to the more recent fatally flawed gun-running program known as Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF has not been the shinning star of federal law enforcement.
To fix the dysfunctional agency, the authors say that it should be subsumed by the FB for three principal reasons:
Resources and Independence.
As a result of pressure by the gun lobby, ATF’s budget has stagnated, rendering it hard-pressed to fulfill even its most basic functions. For example, the agency previously set a goal of conducting compliance inspections of gun dealers at least once every five years. Yet, as the report describes, the agency has never been able to meet this goal because of insufficient resources to hire inspectors, leading it to abandon the goal entirely. In addition, ATF has been hamstrung by more than a dozen appropriations riders that severely limit its ability to regulate the gun industry.
One of ATF’s great strengths is its ability to partner with local law enforcement to combat gun crime. However, coordination at the federal level has been more challenging. ATF and the FBI share jurisdiction over violent crime enforcement and both agencies operate violent crime and gang task forces across the country. The FBI also operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, conducting background checks for gun sales and referring cases of attempted illegal purchases to ATF for investigation – while ATF operate the gun tracing database for tracking illegal guns. But, the databases are not connected and the relationship between the agencies on gun and explosives enforcement has more often been characterized by competition than cooperation.
In addition to the vacuum in the director’s position, ATF struggles with leadership challenges at every level. The agency simply lacks the usual oversight mechanisms and management controls present in most police agencies and struggles to control the operations in the field. We’ve seen symptoms of these management challenges in recent years with a number of high-profile missteps, such as Operation Fast and Furious.
It’s an interesting argument that is thoroughly analyzed but one that is ultimately misguided. What it all boils down to is money. The Center for American Progress wants to create a bigger FBI and give the federal government more money to enforce gun regulations and restrictions in the hope that it will reduce gun-related crime. While in theory that makes sense, in practice — with an Obama White House — it has a parochial effect in that it really only effects law-abiding gun owners, gun dealers and gun manufacturers.
As the National Rifle Association pointed out, “The Obama administration has only contributed to ATF’s dysfunction by politicizing the agency to implement its gun-control agenda,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.
“Regardless of where ATF is located, the reality is that nothing will change until we have a president who respects the Second Amendment,” she added.
True enough. A fish rots from the head down. And when you have an anti-gunner in the White House, one can expect each agency to be imbued with that sentiment. To give you a recent example, the ATF’s attempted ban on M855. What the hell was the point of that? To reduce crime? Or to make in more difficult for responsible gun owners to purchase ammo? Confused about the answer? Just ask yourself when was the last time you heard of a criminal using green tips in the commission of a crime.
But putting that aside, with the DHS, FBI, Customs, Border Patrol, CIA, etc., do we really need a larger government apparatus enforcing the law? How many more billions of taxpayer dollars do we need to spend before the federal government specifically targets those responsible for the vast majority of violent, gun-related crime: drug dealers and gangsters?
The ATF’s annual budget is around $1.1 billion. The FBI’s annual budget is around $8 billion. That’s a lot of money. To increase funding to either one of these agencies would be throwing good money after bad. We know who to target. We certainly have the money and resources to do so. The real question is why we are failing to get them off the streets?