“They’ve won, and they’ve been winning for the past 10 years,” Jerry Naziano, a former top ATF official, told TPMMuckraker. “Both the Republicans and the Democrats are scared to death of the gun lobby.”
Now the NRA is supporting one piece of legislation that gun control advocates say would weaken the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) — the same agency which doesn’t have a permanent chief 21 months into the Obama administration.
“I do think the failure to nominate an ATF director is directly related to their desire to not say anything about guns, and I think that’s because they’re worried about any political fights with the NRA,” Ramsey said.
“Morale would certainly improve at ATF if they had a permanent director,” Mike Bouchard, President of the ATF Association, told TPMMuckraker. “It’s obviously an underfunded agency, and not having an permanent director kind of gives the people that work there a feeling of ‘what are your priorities here?’”
The legislation that several former ATF officials oppose, dubbed the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Reform and Firearms Modernization Act,” would minimize ATF’s authority, say gun control advocates. NRA officials didn’t get back to TPMMuckraker last week.
Hearings for the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee were delayed, so there won’t be any action until at least after midterm elections. But according to the Brady Campaign, both Justice Department and ATF officials were prepared to say bad things about the legislation — marking the first time the Obama administration has taken a public position against the gun lobby, they said. A DOJ spokeswoman said the Department hasn’t provided an official position on legislation.
ATF’s power has been considerably weakened in the past several years, say former officials. A top Justice Department official gave the FBI the lead role in reacting to explosives incidents and the ATF-lead “Project Gunrunner” was found to have “significant weaknesses,” according to a forthcoming Inspector General report.
Despite the lack of progress on gun control legislation, one of the Senate’s top gun control advocates, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), is holding out hope on reforms with bipartisan support.
“I remain focused on common-sense reforms that everyone, regardless of party, should be able to agree on,” Lautenberg said in a statement to TPMMuckraker. “My legislation to close the Terror Gap and the gun show loophole would keep guns out of the hands of terrorists and strengthen our homeland security. These are safety measures that even NRA members overwhelmingly support, and they should move through Congress with bipartisan support,” Lautenberg said.