Gun rights leaders told Guns & Patriots that merging ATF into FBI would provide a means for ATF to hide the kind of rogue activity that has plagued the agency for decades.
“I can’t think of anything more dangerous against gun rights than merging the ATF with the FBI,” said Richard J. Feldman, president of New Hampshire-based Independent Firearm Owners Association. “I would much rather have a stand-alone agency because it is much easier to criticize the ATF for misconduct, than to criticize the FBI.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, led by Director B. Todd Jones, which regulates the licensing, sale, possession, and interstate transportation of firearms, ammunition and explosives; and investigates arson crimes and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products, became a distinct law enforcement group in 1972.
The ATF Elimination Act, which was introduced by Rep. F. James “Jim” Sensenbrenner Jr., (R-Wis.) is a 17-page discussion draft that, if enacted, would abolish ATF and transfer functions relating to federal firearms, explosives, and arson laws, as well as violent crime and domestic terrorism to the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and functions relating to the federal alcohol and tobacco smuggling laws would be transferred to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
For the purpose of winding up the affairs of ATF, the act implements a transfer plan between ATF, DEA and FBI that shall be completed within one year. “This is not a new idea,” said Feldman. “I initially supported it but walked away – it was also rejected by Congress.” It was rejected because members realized that federal regulatory action requires strict congressional oversight, he said. “Congress has a history of not challenging the FBI.”
In a September press release, the Wisconsin Republican said, “The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal ridden agency that lacks a clear mission. It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership. For decades it has been branded by high profile failures. There is also significant overlap with other agencies.”
While minimizing duplicative efforts is a good idea, Feldman said what is needed is better leadership at ATF together with a direct line of communication with the office. “As a former top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, when I dealt with ATF, I dealt with one-short of the deputy of the director of the agency. “
The act would set up an additional and unnecessary bureaucracy that would be out of touch with the American people, he said. “They would have awesome cover for misconduct and it would be harder not easier to hold them accountable.”
ATF, which has 4,770 employees and, in 2012, an annual budget of $1.15 billion, ought to be eliminated completely not merged into a larger – more difficult to handle – federal agency, he said. “Despite its many misdeeds, the FBI still has a better reputation than ATF, and because ATF is relatively smaller, it makes it easier to handle.”
Feldman, who is the author of “Ricochet: Confessions of a gun lobbyist” and a former staffer in the Reagan White House, said without broad, vocal opposition, he suspects the measure would have enough votes to pass. “It is a position the gun community has to make. If the gun community says we do not want you merging ATF into FBI, Republicans are not going to vote for it.”
If enacted, the organization will still be run by the same people, in the same building ATF is in now, except add another level of government regulation to overcome, he said. “You would not be criticizing the firearm officer, you would be criticizing the FBI position on how to regulate firearms – it would be much more difficult.”
As a regulatory and law enforcement agency, the FBI would be in charge of regulating such an important amendment for freedom – the Second Amendment, he said. “What does that say about the future of our nation?” Under the FBI, enforcement would be more efficient, said Feldman. “Yet this is one of those cases where a little inefficiency in the interest of the civil liberties of the American people is more important.” For example, he said executing a suspect on-the-spot would be very efficient, but it would not do much to protect people’s rights.
“Inefficiency is sometimes there to protect civil liberties, not destroy them,” he said. “When it comes to my firearm civil liberty I want inefficiency.” Inefficiency is good for freedom when it comes to criminal justice, he said. “ATF could be a well-run agency if they stopped being rogue and did their job without violating civil liberties.”
Pratt, who has called ATF an inept group with a long history of death and destruction, said the agency needs to be done away with altogether. “ATF has been a horror movie since its inception; it needs to be disbanded, not moved to a hiding place behind the FBI skirts – which do not cover very well, anyway.”