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I’ve long argued that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is like Randy Newman’s short people: they got no reason to live. The ATF’s existence adds a billion-dollar-a-year level of law enforcement to an overlapping farrago of federales. As far as I can tell, most of the agency’s publicized successes stem from “stings” and other forms of entrapment. Of course, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is all about the ATF. Well, the F part. To whom they give an F, for failure to name an anti-gun rights Director. And now the Brady Bunch are lambasting the ATF for having the temerity to do something about the tobacco part of their remit . . .

Brady Prez Paul Helmke warms up with a link-intensive dietribe [sic] about the connection between America’s [allegedly] lax gun laws and terrorism.

As I’ve mentioned before, terrorists have ludicrously easy access to guns in this country.  A famous Al Qaeda training manual instructed operatives here how to obtain AK-47s from gun shows, where willing “private” sellers can transfer high-powered military assault rifles to anyone without conducting a Brady background check. Political extremists kill police officers in Pittsburgh out of delusional fears someone is coming to get their guns, shoot armed guards at the Pentagon to exhaust their hatred of government, kill a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, and threaten to kill U.S. Senators for voting for health care. The Southern Poverty Law Center says hate groups are on the rise, and an Al Qaeda leader calls the U.S. Army officer who killed 13 people at Fort Hood a “hero” for his actions.

Convinced? Anyway . . .

And now, the federal agency with specific responsibility for gun trafficking and gun crimes, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) has announced a crackdown on… tobacco.

A leading legal publication reported last week:

“The Justice Department is proposing new regulations aimed at cracking down on the diversion of legal tobacco products onto the illegal market. The new regulations would expand a cigarette trafficking law, the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act, to cover smokeless tobacco, set up new reporting requirements and lower the minimum number of cigarettes required for a shipment to constitute illegal smuggling.  Organized crime and international terrorist groups including Hezbollah and al-Qaeda have links to illegal tobacco trafficking, according to investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other law enforcement agencies.”

The legal publication in question ( is off-line. In any case, Helmke is pissed that the DOJ wants to crack down on terrorists’ tobacco income rather than their [retail] access to guns.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve never been a smoker, and I’m all for taking steps to highlight the dangers of smoking.  Smoking rates have flattened in the U.S. while still on the rise in much of the world, but cigarettes prematurely end too many lives in the U.S. and we should vigorously enforce the laws relating to the sale of tobacco.

But while the ATF announces it will fight our terrorist enemies’ access to our cigarette supply, the agency continues to sit out the debate about whether we should close the“terror gap” in our background check system for gun purchases that enables terror watch list suspects to buy all the guns they want, and the gun show loophole that allows them to buy guns without Brady background checks.

This leads to a relatively straightforward question: Given a choice of shutting off Al Qaeda’s access to American guns and its access to American cigarettes, which should be the higher priority?

May I? I’m thinking cigarettes. Lest we forget, the 911 terrorists used box cutters to kill over a thousand people. If anyone thinks the ATF can “shut off” terrorists’ access to guns in a country with well over 250 million firearms, they are seriously delusional. Meanwhile, cutting off their access to cash—and the illegal cigarette trade could be worth billions—sounds like an excellent idea.

The rest of Helmke’s rant accuses the Obama Administration’s of caving to real politik on gun control: “I do not think that it is accidental that the career civil servants who are trying to run the ATF have chosen to announce a crackdown on tobacco rather than a renewed commitment to fight illegal gun trafficking to make it harder for dangerous people to get guns.”

Suffice it to say, the brave men and women at the ATF (and the pencil pushers who enable them) would be better off working for other federal law enforcement agencies, of which there should also be less. Whether it’s fighting terrorism or tobacco smugglers or terrorist tobacco smugglers, inefficiency is the greatest barrier to effectiveness.

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  1. Maybe the Brady Bunch is upset that the ATF realized tobacco and alcohol kill more then guns do?

    Edit: Wow how did I end up at a 2 year old article?

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