As Americans Confront Gun Control, Government Regulator has Fewer Agents than 40 Years Ago

Friday, December 21, 2012
B. Todd Jones...forced to do more with less

Regardless of what laws are on the books to control guns, the federal agency charged with regulating firearms has been operating without a permanent director for half a dozen years and has fewer agents that it did 40 years ago.


Such is the state of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), whose funding and authority have shrunk because of the powerful gun lobby in Washington. With Republicans and conservative Democrats in line with the priorities of the National Rifle Association, ATF has struggled to keep its funding intact, or even get a director confirmed in the Senate.


ATF is currently led by B. Todd Jones, an interim acting director who works part time at the agency while handling his other job as a U.S. attorney in Minnesota.


The agency currently has only 2,500 agents—a total smaller than what it had four decades ago—and 60,000 gun retailers to inspect and oversee.


The NRA has been so effective in keeping a permanent director from being confirmed by the Senate that even President George W. Bush couldn’t get his choice of Michael J. Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney in Boston, from winning confirmation.


Meanwhile, Washington is abuzz since the Newtown massacre with talk of adopting more gun control laws. One ex-ATF executive said there’s little point in Congress passing new legislation if the agency charged with enforcement of gun laws is too weak to do its job effectively.


“If the administration and Congress are serious about addressing this problem, they need to fund the gun police, the agency charged with administering the firearms regulations,” Michael Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director, told The Washington Post. “Unless they are going to do this completely, simply passing some form of gun legislation is only part of the solution.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

ATF, Charged With Regulating Guns, Lacks Resources And Leadership (by Sari Horwitz, Washington Post)

Letter to President Obama (Mayors Against Illegal Guns)


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