Just how much power does the National Rifle Association wield in Washington? Enough that a plan quietly proposed by federal agents to combat illegal gun trafficking along the Mexico border has languished at the Justice Department for months — all because officials are worried about what the NRA might think.
The Washington Post published an account of the internal debate today, outlining the enormity of the influence the gun lobby — led by the NRA — holds over federal gun policy and its enforcement.
With the effectiveness of their “Project Gunrunner” plan under fire, agents working for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) developed a plan they thought would combat the smuggling of domestically purchased AK-47s and AR-15s to Mexico, where those weapons are fueling a violent drug war south of the border.
Despite their efforts to keep under wraps the plan to require gun dealers to report sales of multiple rifles and shotguns to ATF, the NRA caught wind of it and issued a dire warning to NRA members, the newspaper reported. The plan is gaining traction at DOJ, but sources told the Post they fear the NRA will rally its forces to kill the plan if it becomes public.
In sum, the NRA and their $250 million in yearly revenue have been the strongest force shaping the nation’s gun laws, says the newspaper.
“The White House is sensitized enough to understand it really is the third rail of American politics,” Richard Feldman, a former lobbyist for the NRA, told the newspaper. “They have figured out that it is a lightning-rod issue, and they don’t want it to injure them.”
Attorney General Eric Holder, who took criticism from White House officials for telling reporters he would push to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, declined to be interviewed for the story. All DOJ would offer the Post was a statement from spokesman Matt Miller, who said “the administration continues to support common-sense measures to stem gun violence.”
As TPM previously reported, the NRA opposes the nomination of Andrew Traver to head ATF because NRA Executive Director Chris Cox Googled him and found an interview the NRA didn’t like. Because of that opposition, Traver’s nomination isn’t likely to be approved by Congress, the Washington Post noted.
Gun control advocates are upset over what they say is lack of action from the Obama administration, contending they are loathe to speak about any gun control issues because of how politically sensitive gun rights are, as TPM has reported.
Be sure to read the Washington Post’s full account, which traces the evolution of the NRA’s war on ATF back to the Clinton era.