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It must be nice to live in Washington Post world, where there are good guys (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) and bad guys (the National Rifle Association). It makes analysis a snap: the “gun lobby’s” hamstringing the “cops.” Done. Here in the real world, the ATF is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight; an agency that spends $1m per employee per year and couldn’t catch a cold with a double dose of flu spray, never mind apprehend “straw purchasers” (otherwise legal buyers funneling firearms sales to felons). Meanwhile, the big bad NRA remains silent on the ATF’s ongoing campaign to create a database of American gun owners’ firearms and share it with the world (no less) . . .

Yesterday, the WaPo pointed the fickle finger of yellow journalism at the ATF with the demurely titled “ATF’s oversight limited in face of gun lobby.” Surprisingly (or not), they fail to make the case. In fact, the first specific mention of the NRA comes in the form of an entirely convincing statement from the gun rights’ group that they’re not anti-ATF per se. At all. First the kvetch. Then the pitch.

“We’re a political football,” said James Cavanaugh, who recently retired as special agent in charge of the ATF’s Nashville office after a 30-year career.

The NRA, which has about 4 million members, said its work over the years pushing legislation in Congress has been designed to protect the constitutional rights of gun owners and has not hampered law enforcement.

The ATF “should focus their efforts on prosecuting bad people and not harassing gun dealers and, in a lot of cases, gun owners,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. “The only reason to register products is either to tax ’em or to take ’em.”

Ah, BUT . . . nothing. The Washington Post article offers nothing in the way of contradiction, proceeding instead to paint a picture of a federal agency that can’t find a way to safely and efficiently process millions of gun sales records. (I repeat, $1.4 billion per year.)

An agency whose former director spent 40 grand swanning off to London and $140 million on a new office building. And this epic incompetence is the NRA’s fault because? Because they won’t let President Obama appoint a new head, apparently.

In August, sources in the ATF said Andy Traver, a special agent in charge of the ATF in Chicago, was being considered for the job. Gun-lobby representatives immediately said they would oppose his nomination because they thought he was too close to gun-control activists.

Too close? Closerthanthis. Still, that doesn’t stop the WaPo from playing “pin the tale of ATF impotence on the NRA.” After arguing that the ATF is under-staffed and under-funded (har-har), scribes Sari Horwitz and James V. Grimaldi takes another run at the NRA. The Fairfax firearms folks are having none of it.

“We were always given just enough food and water to survive,” said Michael Bouchard, former ATF assistant director for field operations. “We could barely just keep going. The ATF could never get that strong, because the gun lobby would get too concerned.”

The NRA said it has not lobbied against resources for the ATF.

“We have not always agreed with some of ATF’s priorities,” Cox said. “We want to help ATF focus on its core mission . . . which is finding, apprehending, arresting and punishing people who break the law.”

I make that two nil, NRA. After some more ATF expose, the paper regains some lost ground in its anti-NAR jihad. It attacks the org for defending the “no inventory” Tiahrt amendment.

“An annual inventory is part of every business,” said Zammillo, who retired this year after four decades with the ATF. “Congress said we forbid you to require a business to take an inventory.

“There is a clear need for it for public safety, based on the number of missing guns.”

The NRA said requiring inventories would impose a huge cost on the industry and raise prices for consumers.

The correct reply here: the federal government has no business telling the gun business how to run its business. Besides, gun dealers are already legally obliged to report missing or stolen guns. What do you want, blood?

New legislation, pending before Congress, would further limit the agency’s ability to regulate dealers, former and current ATF officials said. Pushed by the gun lobby and called the “ATF modernization bill,” it would require a higher standard to prove violations by dealers. The agency, for the first time, would have to show that a dealer knew the law and intentionally disregarded it; in other words, the ATF would have to establish the dealer’s state of mind at the time of the violation.

The NRA said the law is necessary because dealers often are harshly punished for trivial paperwork errors.

“ATF always has had and should always have the ability to punish dealers who have willfully broken the law, but short of that we have to inject some common sense,” Cox said.

Admittedly, that looks a bit shady– at least the way the WaPo presents it. Would the paper like to point out that the NRA wants to add fines to the policing process, increasing punishment for wayward dealers? Here’s the NRA’s official statement:

Of highest importance, S. 941and H.R. 2296 totally rewrite the system of administrative penalties for licensed dealers, manufacturers and importers of firearms. Currently, for most violations, BATFE can only give a federal firearms license (FFL) holder a warning, or revoke his license.

S. 941 and H.R. 2296 would allow fines or license suspensions for less serious violations, while still allowing license revocation for the kind of serious violations that would block an investigation or put guns in the hands of criminals. This will help prevent the all-too-common situations where BATFE has revoked licenses for insignificant technical violations—such as improper use of abbreviations or filing records in the wrong order.

I call hatchet job. Willful, arrogant, underhanded, poorly executed, kneecap journalism. Did I say craven? Craven. If you need proof, just look at today’s summation editorial Shackling the ATF: How the gun lobby keeps an agency from doing its job. Heads-up guys: the ATF isn’t shackled. It’s incompetent. Not to coin a phrase, it’s the stupid stupid.

And so the WaPo’s anti-gun dealer series ends with a final piss-poor polemic—that resorts to another smear against the amorphous (but obviously evil) “gun lobby.”

As the Supreme Court ruled two years ago, the Constitution of the United States protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. But limits or conditions attach to even fundamental rights. For far too long, lawmakers have catered to the whims of the gun lobby with little or no thought for public safety.

Whims? Screw you bub.

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  1. Robert: I just noticed the same story is above-the-fold in today's Denver Post. It's always funny when supposedly "objective" journalists let the mask slip, but it is to be expected this close to election day.

    As for the story itself, it gets a big "Meh" from me: Dinosaur journalists can be expected to get more shrill as they preach to an ever-shrinking choir.

  2. I think at the point that an organization has 4 million dues paying members it is no longer a "special interest", it is a constituency.

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