On May 19 the Center for American Progress (CAP) joined GOP calls to do away with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and the shuffle the agency’s current responsibilities to other federal agencies.
On March 6–during the ATF-led push to ban the M855 round from AR-15 use–Breitbart News reported on Representative Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-WI) push to do away with the ATF altogether. Sensenbrenner put forward the “ATF Elimination Act,” describing the agency as one that is “largely duplicative” in its operations.
Sensenbrenner stressed that the FBI and DEA could do the things the ATF does, and save gun owners the pressure they face from a highly politicized agency like the ATF.
CAP is taking the same position but for different reasons. Whereas Sensenbrenner is worried the politicized ATF has gotten too strong–as the attempted AR-15 ammo ban indicated–CAP believes the ATF has become impotent, its hands tied by the successes of the gun rights movement.
ATF has faced some serious challenges in its efforts to be the federal agency charged with enforcing the nation’s gun laws, combating gun crime, and regulating the firearms industry. This report seeks to offer recommendations for how to improve federal enforcement and regulation of guns that recognize and build on the formidable assets that ATF already has—but it does so while recognizing that the status quo is not enough. Although ATF has had many successes, its capabilities are inadequate in relation to the scope of the gun crime challenge in the United States. Therefore, this report does not focus on a series of piecemeal recommendations to improve ATF’s current operations. Prior evaluations, including ones written by authors of this report, make such recommendations; some of them have been acted upon, and others would certainly offer substantial benefits to the functionality and success of the agency. But this report finds that something bigger needs to happen to address the challenges that ATF faces.
The CAP report then moves to address a reality similar to that outlined by Rep. Sensenbrenner; a reality in which the job being done by the ATF can realistically be transitioned to other agencies:
[This reality] begins with a recognition that the United States already has the world’s premiere national law enforcement agency: the FBI. This report concludes that ATF, both its personnel and its mission responsibilities, should be merged into the FBI. The FBI—bolstered by the agents, expertise, and resources of a subsumed ATF—should take over primary jurisdiction of federal firearms enforcement.
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