Posted by Edmond Geary | Posted in Gun possession charges, Law enforcement | Posted on 23-07-2011
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (A.T.F.) has always had to fight to distinguish itself from the F.B.I. Specialized in enforcing only the matters in its title, it made headlines in the 1970s for its big drug busts. Its history is said to derive from Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury operations during the Whiskey Rebellion, and claims to include the famous Eliot Ness, fighter of bootleggers, moonshiner, cigarette smugglers, and Chicago mobsters.
Housed in the Justice Department, the bureau has a budget of about $1billion and fields 2,500 agents. From the time of its creation, there has been debate if it deserved to be a free-standing agency.
Now some in Washington say it is time to merge the A.T.F. into the F.B.I. The latest problem is a scandal over Operation Fast and Furious. Some agents who were investigating a gun-running operation across the Mexican border deliberately allowed some weapons to go through. The explanation given was that they wanted to stand back and follow the evidence trail higher up the purchasing tree. The problem is that hundreds of guns disappeared into Mexico, and two of the guns were found at the scene of a shootout where American Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed. Some agents who thought the agency did the wrong thing in allowing the guns to go through told Congress about.
President Obama has promised to take “appropriate action” when the investigation is complete. The head of the agency, Kenneth Melson, may lose his job. Noteworthily, Melson is only the acting head of the agency. The A.T.F. has not had a director since the last time the bureau had a scandal. And that was when the Senate demanded the power to confirm the agency director. Carl Truscott was the last permanent director of the agency in 2006. When he was investigated for his spending habits, the Senate demanded confirmation power at the urging from the National Rifle Association, who has no love for the A.T.F.
Some blame the National Rifle Association for the problems at the A.T.F., saying the Association has weakened the agency. The Association denies it, but it clearly has every possible motive to weaken the agency, as it views the A.T.F. as existing to threaten gun owners’ rights. When the Senate obtained the power to confirm the agency director, some predicted no one would ever be confirmed again. And no one has. President George W. Bush’s nominee, Michael Sullivan, never won Senate confirmation and ran the agency as acting director. Since President Obama last November nominated Andrew Traver, who is opposed by the National Rifle Association, the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to hold a hearing on his appointment.
Guns now draw the headlines for the bureau, as they do for Oklahoma criminal defense attorneys in federal court. but the alcohol and tobacco have made their name in other states. The bureau still conducts investigations of illegal tobacco sales by or with Indian tribes in Oklahoma as well.
It is legal to own a machine gun in this country, but the A.T.F. may conduct surprise visits to ensure the whereabouts of every weapon and ammunition. The Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 prohibited the A.T.F. from conducting more than one unannounced inspection of a gun dealer. The Act also made it harder to revoke the license of dealers whom the agency accuses of breaking the law.
Advocates of the bureau like the way it goes after gun running in Mexico and monitors gun transactions in this country. Gun dealers who sell in bulk like 50 or 100 guns in one transaction draw especial attention. Some even want to strengthen the bureau, among other reasons because they say 70% of the guns recovered from the drugs wars in Mexico originated from the United States. But Congress has refused to allow the agency to assemble a centralized computer database of gun transactions. The utility of such a tool is obvious for tracking.
Critics of the bureau fear it will get too much control over the gun rights of citizens. To them, a centralized data base is anathema. They view locating all the gun owners in the country as only the first step toward confiscating those guns, maybe not now, but later on down the road.
Reporting multiple sales of handguns was already required of dealers in all 50 states. A new regulation issued by the Justice Department requires dealers to report anyone buying two or more semi-automatic rifles within 5 days. The regulation applies only to sales in states that border Mexico: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It is designed to catch sales to straw buyers, buyers who purchase weapons for the Mexican drug cartels. The rule also provides that a report will be destroyed after two years if it produces no criminal cases. Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association claims the new regulation is unconstitutional, as an infringement upon the Second Amendment right to bear arms, and is threatening to challenge it in court.