Ever since November 8th, the gun violence prevention (GVP) community has been waiting with bated breath to see how Trump will reward the NRA for helping him get to where he sits today. And Trump made no secret of the fact that he was strongly in favor of gun ‘rights’ even going so far as to say that the massacre in the Pulse nightclub could have been stopped if someone in the house that night had been armed with a gun. He had to pull back when the NRA made it clear they didn’t think people should be armed when walking into establishments that served alcohol, but this was nothing more than a minor flap – kissed and made up so that Trump could remind every rally that the 2nd Amendment was here to stay.
In that respect, the GVP folks have been buzzing the last couple of days having discovered that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) has filed a bill that would, if enacted by Congress and then signed by der Fuehrer, abolish the ATF. And when I say abolish, I mean getting rid of the entire agency, lock, stock and barrel, and transfer all of its functions, its personnel and its property to the FBI. The bill, which has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee on which Sensenbrenner happens to sit, is entitled “The ATF Elimination Act,” which basically sums it up.
Incidentally, the bill does state that all ATF staff will continue at their current grade and salary for a period of no less than one year. That’s not a bad severance deal, come to think of it, particularly when the new wind blowing in Washington keeps whistling something about the federal government being way too big. But if there’s one thing that Gun-nut Nation has always said, it’s that they don’t need government gun regulations hanging over their heads. And if you get rid of the regulators….
Not to say that the FBI couldn’t do what the ATF currently does. In fact, the FBI already plays a major role in regulating gun ownership because they run the phone bank in West Virginia which handles all those background checks known as FBI-NICS. The form that is used to conduct the check is designed by the ATF, and it is the ATF which comes into gun shops and inspects those forms in order to make sure that the dealer is following the relevant regulations every time a gun is sold. But the background check itself is done by the FBI. And despite what the ATF likes to say about how its important law enforcement functions keep us all secure and safe, the truth is that beyond occasionally going after someone whose background check was rejected because they didn’t tell the truth, there’s not a hell of a lot the agency does beyond that.
Oh, they’ll tell you that they don’t have enough budget, they can’t go beyond tracing the initial gun sale (which is simply not true) and every time they get a new Director he quits after a year, but if you think that just because a conservative, Trump supporter like Sensenbrenner is giving the ATF a shove as a way of helping the 45th President square things with the NRA, think again.
Back in May, 2015, the leading liberal think-tank, the Center for American Progress, issued a detailed report which argued that ATF should be moved to the FBI. And the reasons cited for this proposal basically boiled down to the fact that among federal law enforcement agencies, the ATF has always been a weak sister when compared to the power and visibility of the FBI and the DEA. But no matter where ATF ends up, the real question is whether gun ownership should be regulated or not. And on that issue, the two sides don’t agree.