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The Melissa Harris-Perry show this morning tackled a variety of gun control issues, and in the process I was reminded of one in particular that hasn't come up lately -- to the point that people around me aren't even aware of it.

Back in 2006, Congress added a requirement for Senate confirmation of any new director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives; and even since then, there has been no actual director of the ATF. Since that time it has been led by acting directors, including right now.

And so a government bureau with a budget of over a billion dollars continues to be led by an acting director due to stonewalling in the Senate by Republicans, at the behest of the NRA.

The agency is led by B. Todd Jones, Acting Director,[4] and Thomas E. Brandon, Deputy Director.[5] ATF has nearly 5,000 employees and an annual budget of $1.12 billion (2010).[2]
2006 puts this back in the hands of Republicans during the Bush regime. In particular, it is apparently the work of James Sensenbrenner, House rep. from Wisconsin. The results were predictable, as described in this ThinkProgress article from 2011.
Shortly after the 2006 law took effect, President Bush nominated U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan to head the ATF, but even a Republican president’s choice proved unacceptable to pro-gun lobbyists. The NRA, in particular, accused Sullivan of “overly restrictive legal interpretations” and “overly zealous enforcement activities” because, while Sullivan served as Acting Director of ATF, the agency revoked several gun dealers licenses to sell firearms. Sens. David Vitter (R-LA), Larry Craig (R-ID) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) quickly took up the gun lobby’s cause, placing a hold on Sullivan’s nomination until he agreed to comply with the NRA’s demands. Sullivan was never confirmed.

The problem only got worse once President Obama took office. Obama did not nominate an ATF Director until Nov. 2010, in no small part because the administration “had a tough time even finding a candidate interested in the ATF job because of likely gun-lobby resistance.” When Obama finally did nominate Andrew Traver, a 23 year veteran of the ATF and the head of its Chicago office, the gun lobby did not disappoint. Within 24 hours of the Traver nomination, the NRA officially announced its opposition.

The NRA's press release objecting to Andrew Traver has been archived on the wayback machine. The NRA accuses Traver of lining up behind gun control "advocates" and "schemes".
The IACP report, generated with Traver's help, called on Congress to ban thousands of commonly owned firearms by misrepresenting them as “assault weapons,” as well as calling for bans on .50 caliber rifles and widely used types of ammunition. The report also suggests that Congress should regulate gun shows out of existence and should repeal the privacy protections of the Tiahrt Amendment -- all efforts strongly opposed by the NRA and its members.
Interesting, this; after all, a renewed assault weapons ban has come up in discussions now and it's going to come up in Congress, at least. And repealing the Tiahrt amendment is on the list of proposals put out by MAIG, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Tiahrt is the author of the Tiahrt Amendment, which prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. Additionally, any data so released is inadmissible in a civil lawsuit.[5] Some groups, including the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition, believe that having further access to the ATF database would help municipal police departments track down sellers of illegal guns and curb crime. These groups are trying to undo the Tiahrt Amendment.[6] Numerous police organizations oppose the Tiahrt Amendment, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).[7] Conversely, the Tiahrt Amendment is supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, although it allows municipal police departments limited access to ATF trace data in any criminal investigation.
Besides protecting against civil suits, it hampers actual criminal investigation as well. But since it hides data about guns and gun violence, the NRA (and supposedly its membership) is for it. And Republicans in the House and Senate engineered this 'solution,' which depends on the broken system in the Senate that allows for nearly unlimited Senate obstructionism on the part of the GOP.

This has been the state of affairs since 2006, when Sensenbrenner slipped a provision into the PATRIOT Act re-authorization. Perhaps things have changed enough since then, though. The influence and approval of the NRA is on the wane, and ideas like banning assault weapons and repealing the Tiahrt amendment are now back 'on the table,' in spite of NRA protests. It may be time for a new director to be nominated for the ATF as well. Or at least, it seems time to remind the people of what Republicans did for the NRA to make the ATF as toothless as possible against curbing gun violence. And Democrats in the Senate are poised to make changes, to make it more functional; this can be added to the list of reasons why.

Many things came together to make this possible. Odd little bits of legislation, slipped into larger bills. Republican dominance during the Bush regime. The broken Senate. And most of all, the NRA running the show.

8:22 PM PT:

Well now, that is a long link and I hope it works. But it's from the Washington Post, and it reports on earlier stories from the WP and NPR about how the ATF has lacked a permanent director. Along with the part-time job of its acting director, which KateCrashes commented on below. The WP makes the case for fixing this double-duty directing thusly:

"Funding has been relatively flat. Central databases and inspections are restricted. And the lack of leadership is preventing the sort of long-term projections essential in the running of any organization. President Obama has nominated a permanent replacement for Jones, but his nomination has been stalled for two years because of opposition from the gun lobby, The Post reported."

Originally posted to The Tytalan Way on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 09:54 AM PST.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA and Community Spotlight.

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