Beleaguered ATF Still Has No Director, Suffers Layoffs

The ATF will bear the primary responsibility for investigating the tragic bombings in Boston, but they will be doing it with stretched personnel and no director.

Just after news broke of the explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof sent out this tweet:

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The reaction was swift and severe. Ultimately, he "took it back", saying it was a "low blow."

But was it really a low blow? The ATF has long been a target of the right wing servants of the NRA. From their hysteria over "Fast and Furious" to Senate Republicans blocking any nominee to be director, the ATF is an agency the NRA very, very much wants to destroy.

Last week, 98 contractors in the gun division of the ATFwere laid off in West Virginia as a result of the sequester. That number could climb to 160 if Congress cannot resolve the budget problems.

This isn't an exercise in opportunism. Everyone should be concerned that an agency with primary responsibility for regulating the flow of guns and explosives in this country is being gutted with every budget resolution passed.

President Obama's current nominee, B. Todd Jones, is currently working as a US Attorney in the District of Minnesota while also serving as acting director of the ATF. One might surmise that there is no real motive for anyone concerned with national security to block such a nomination. The only ones who stand to benefit are the NRA.

Back in the beginning of this month, the Daily Beast reported:

For the last quarter century, the NRA’s lobbyists have been working the shadowy corners of the congressional budgeting and appropriations process to insert “riders”—restrictions on how federal funds can be spend—that target the enforcement powers of the federal government.

Media Matters also warned about their efforts:

The NRA also routinely blocks efforts to appoint a permanent ATF director. According to a report by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, there has not been a full-fledged ATF director since 2006, when Congress, at the behest of the NRA, changed federal law to require ATF directors to be confirmed by the Senate. Since 2006, the post has been held by a series of acting and interim directors.

As the Brady Center notes, "without a leader, ATF's ability to stop gun trafficking by corrupt gun dealers is significantly curtailed. As a body without a head, ATF lacks a leader who can decide on strategic plans and broad strategies, who can marshal the agency's resources to achieve its objectives, and who can fight to obtain the resources it needs." In 2010, President Obama nominated ATF Denver division director Andrew Traver for the position of ATF director, but because of NRA opposition, Traver remains unconfirmed.

I don't know if the lack of funding and a director would have made a difference in Boston yesterday, but an effectively staffed and funded agency would have had more of an ability to focus on prevention rather than reacting after the fact. By weakening them, the overall message is that the one agency responsible for tracking and investigating firearms, including explosives, is leaderless and toothless, thanks to the right wing, in service to the NRA.

I wonder if they'd feel the same way if foreign nationals are found to be responsible for these explosions. They seem to be willing to blame Muslim extremists, but unwilling to actually fund the agencies necessary to investigate them for fear that the militias will somehow be persecuted.

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