Should The ATF Change How It Operates When It May Not Operate Very Well Now?

Our good friends at The Trace have just mounted coverage of the Congressional hearing where an ATF official, Ron Turk, faced blowback from Democrats over a memo he sent around questioning the necessity to maintain various gun regulations, such things as keeping silencers on the NFA list, restricting the import of assault-style rifles, prohibiting dealers from one state from selling direct to customers in another state – you know, little things like that.

atf             The word around town is that Turk the Jerk is pimping to become ATF Director, a position vacant since the last Director, Todd Jones, abruptly quit after the agency was buried in an avalanche of pro-gun protests when they tried to restrict the sale of surplus military ammunition which was seen as yet another infringement of 2nd Amendment ‘rights.’  Turk the Jerk claimed that he wrote his memo without input from the NRA, but he admitted during the hearing that, uh, maybe he had ‘heard’ from people in the industry who, uh, told him that they, uh, supported what he said.

My purpose, however, is not to rehash what Turk the Jerk said about his memo; Ann Givens did a good job on that score. What caught my eye was a link to the very critical report of ATF’s oversight of its confidential informant program which, according to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, is managed about as well as the White House is currently managing the behavior of the Commander in Chief.

The audit was conducted to evaluate the practices “for the identification, approval and oversight of confidential informants,” which number more than 1,800 individuals and costs the agency more than $4 million each year. Confidential informants (CI) are a necessary and important tool for law-enforcement investigations, but their use obviously involves risks regarding the validity of the information which they provide, as well as their involvement in illicit activities. The report concluded that “ATF’s oversight of its CI Program required significant improvement,” which is bureaucrat-ese for saying that the program isn’t run very well.  Gee – what a surprise that when it comes to conducting detailed and complicated field investigations, the ATF keeps screwing it up.

This is the same agency which carried out an armed invasion of the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco in 1993 because they believed that members of the sect were manufacturing machine guns that would be used in an Armageddon-type attack on the nearby town. The assault resulted in the deaths of 4 ATF agents and at least 80 men, women and children, even though not a single full-auto weapon was ever found.

Then under the administrations first of George W and then Barack, the ATF went looking for machine guns again and put together an operation called ‘Fast and Furious,’ in which gun dealers were encouraged to sell lots of AK-47s to Mexican gunrunners who, it was believed, were turning the semi-auto rifles into full-auto weapons before they were smuggled over the Rio Grande. This brilliant program resulted in the death of an ATF agent and the disappearance of more than 2,000 weapons before it was curtailed. How many machine guns were recovered? None, as in not one.

The ATF not only botches field investigations, they can’t even bring the technology they use for regulatory activities into the 20th Century, never mind the 21st. Know those 300,000 traces they conduct every year to figure out the initial sale of all those ‘crime’ guns? Forget that most of those traces have nothing to do with serious crimes at all, the ATF still sends trace requests to dealers by fax. Have these guys heard of email and pdf?

If Turk the Jerk really wants to modify regulations to, as he says, ‘free up resources to fight crime,’ why doesn’t he first look at the way in which the ATF operates day-to-day? Before the regulations are changed to make the job easier, perhaps we need to know whether the agency knows how to operate at all.

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