As TTAG Commentator Sean D Sorrentino and gun rights advocate put it this morning, “We don’t merely wish to move the ball a few yards downfield. We want to crush our opposition so badly that no one ever tries to screw with us again. I won’t be satisfied until Paul Helmke is reduced to holding a cardboard sign begging for food in Central Park while I walk by open carrying.” But it’s not Paul Helmke and his Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence that present the greatest danger to Americans’ gun rights. It’s not even the coalition of caterwauling cretins at the Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Or the venomous vilification artists at the Violence Policy Center. Or McCarthy the Merciless. It’s the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The ATF as a fully-fledged federal agency was born, Athena-like, from the mind of Rex D. Davis. Right from the git-go, Davis envisioned the ATF as an active crusader against violent crime, rather than a passive processor of federal forms. Setting aside the fact that the United States already had at least one federal agency engaged in this crusade (FBI), Davis focused his sights on the “real” enemy: gunmakers, gun dealers and, by extension, gun buyers.
As the first Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Rex understood that we need to use every available resource, including strong laws, strong enforcement, and civil liability to prevent dangerous people from getting dangerous weapons. He worked hard to understand how criminals get guns, and how to stop them. Even late in life he fought legislation that protected scofflaw gun dealers from lawsuits, a bill that unfortunately became the law.
That would be the aforementioned Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign on Mr. Davis’ death, correctly identifying the bureaucrat as an important ally in the ceaseless fight against “easy access” to guns. And the wrong kind of guns (assault weapons). And too many guns (multiple purchases). And guns purchased without the express knowledge of the federal government. Etc.
The ATF’s intrinsic desire to control the American gun industry and its customers still informs the agency’s every move. Their ludicrous play to establish a long gun registry along America’s southern border—currently in limbo—exemplifies their ongoing administrative over-reach. The ATF never met a federal gun law they didn’t like; every one adds to their power and purpose. The resulting regulations fuel their nihilisitc narcissism and enable their bully-boy culture.
When President Obama blamed the U.S. for arming Mexico’s drug lords, ATF acting head Kenneth Melson and his minions saw their chance to drape their NRA-hobbled agency in glory. No matter what. Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious were characteristically cavalier; the Powers That Be were unconcerned about the predictable carnage resulting from thousands of guns smuggle southwards. This “ends justify the means” strategy is the scandal’s most revealing aspect. Neither the procedure involved (a so-called “sting” operation) nor the consequences-be-damned amorality of the programs are aberrations.
As we’ve been saying since disenchanted agents first “outed” the ATF’s Mexican gun smuggling operations, both programs are a logical extension of the ATF’s poisonous culture, misguided goals and profound disregard for the rule of law. The web is well-stocked with stories of ATF abuses against the citizens it supposedly protects. Even a brief perusal of cleanupatf.org‘s forum reveals an agency where managers define the term “accountability” in entirely personal terms, without the slightest regard to the Constitution they’re sworn to uphold.
With the National Rifle Association‘s blessing, Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) have introduced H.R. 1093, the “Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Reform Act.” It’s yet another laundry list of prohibitions designed to reign-in the ATF’s ambitions, from the broad (“require BATFE to establish clear investigative guidelines”) to the specific (“prohibit BATFE from requiring multiple sales reports on the sale of long guns by limiting BATFE’s authority to collect data that is not specifically allowed by statute”).
It’s not enough. The only “reform” the ATF needs is dissolution. There is nothing that the ATF does—I repeat not one thing—that cannot be done by the FBI or various state or local police. Lest we forget, the ATF was originally a paper-pushing department of the IRS. In fact, removing the ATF from the law enforcement equation would increase efficiency, by removing an over-lapping layer of bureaucracy that leads to duplication, confusion and extra-legal ambition.
Yes, there is that. But how much of that is an open question. One which Congress should investigate. Project Gunrunner and Operation Fast and Furious are but the doorway to an enormous ATF cesspool. Cleaning up the federal law enforcement agency would be a mammoth task. Why bother? By all means, drag those guilty of illegal acts into the cold light of day. Expose the ATF’s thugs and reveal the coverup they triggered. After that, lights out.
If Americans are serious about limiting the size of the federal government, terminating the $1.5 billion ATF is as good a place as any to start. And better than most.