Efforts to establish some sort of control over weapons must begin by reinforcing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency in charge of enforcing current laws.
Firearms enthusiasts mistakenly consider the ATF a federal agency whose objective is to limit gun ownership and take weapons away from Americans. It is significant, for example, that the fiasco of Fast and Furious was seen as a failure that happened on purpose, that was rigged to lead to more gun control.
At that time, the House Republican leadership took advantage of the unfortunate operation to demolish the ATF’s reputation, in addition to trying to gain political brownie points at the expense of the White House.
In reality, there is a long history of hostility in Congress against the ATF. Lawmakers in favor of firearms have been able to for six years block the appointees of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to head the ATF, because they were considered by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to be hostile to gun owners.
The influence of this organization has also led the ATF, in addition to only having interim directors, to having the smallest staff in 40 years2,508 agents to control at least 128,849 active federal firearms licensesand one of the government’s oldest databases to track weapons.
Opponents of gun control claim that no more laws are needed to regulate weapons and that it is enough to enforce existing laws. At the same time, these opponents weaken the agency charged with that enforcement mission, no matter what it takes.
President Obama announced yesterday the creation of a special intergovernmental task force to come up with proposals involving firearms, mental health and other issues connected to our culture. This is a very ambitious agenda. In this sense, we agree with the president that, in terms of time, the priority is for Congress to finally confirm a permanent director for the ATF.
The stability of the agency in charge of firearms is a good start. It is also a good test to measure the impact the school massacre in Newtown has had on Congress.