Tim Devaney at The Hill seems to be wringing his hands over the idea that the mean old Republicans are attacking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. (Which I still just refer to as the ATF.) Who could have seen this coming?

The much-maligned Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is again coming under fire from Republicans and gun rights groups, who are pushing to rein in the agency’s power — or abolish it altogether. The recent attacks follow the ATF’s proposal to prohibit a popular type of armor-piercing ammunition that critics say is a backhanded attempt to render useless AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

It’s a blatant “power grab” that runs counter to the spirit of the Second Amendment, said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel at Gun Owners of America.

“They’re going to take out the gun by taking out the ammunition,” Hammond told The Hill. “If you have a gun that has no bullets in it, you can use it as a door stop or hit people over the head with it, but it’s basically no longer a gun.”

But the flap is just the latest in a long line of grievances lawmakers have against the ATF, whose infamously botched Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation cemented it as a perennial target. And it has renewed tensions between the ATF and Republicans, some of whom are looking to turn the lights out on the agency that they say has become too powerful.

The backdoor attempt to hinder the ownership and use of AR-15 style sports rifles by banning some of the most affordable and popular ammunition for them is certainly a valid subject, and one we’ve written about here before. But it seems that a larger point is being made as this debate plays out. It’s not as if the ATF was cruising along as a useful, efficient government agency and this debate was just a hiccup. Nor was Fast and Furious the only major scandal in their recent past.

Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is quoted in the article, describing why the problems with the ATF are deeper and more serious than a few bad apples or the occasional policy which has gone awry.

“The ATF is a scandal-ridden, largely duplicative agency that lacks a clear mission,” Sensenbrenner said. “Its ‘Framework’ is an affront to the Second Amendment and yet another reason why Congress should pass the ATF Elimination Act.”

This bill was actually introduced last fall and has attracted a lot of conservative attention. It’s a fairly short and easy to understand piece of legislation. It would begin the process of winding down the activities of the ATF as a federal agency. Their assets which are not duplicates would be transferred to more appropriate agencies. Cases involving violations specific to firearms and explosives would go to the FBI. Matters involving the illegal trafficking of tobacco or alcohol would go to the DEA.

When you sum it up in a few sentences like that it really begins to sound like one of those light bulb moments. Perhaps the question shouldn’t be whether or not we should get rid of the ATF, but why we’ve been keeping it around for so long. The agency was founded as part of the IRS back in the mid 1800s primarily to deal with moonshiners and making sure they paid their taxes. It’s gone through more convoluted changes than you can shake a stick at since then and performs functions which are almost always done in concert with other agencies anyway. In fact, they tried dumping it off into the FBI in the 90s.

We already have plenty of agencies handling crime and none of the ATF’s core functions sound like something outside the purview of these groups. There is little left to the ATF which wouldn’t be just as well taken care of in a more centralized command structure. As things stand, it seems to serve more as a political entity which gets to push the administration agenda at the point of a gun than anything else. Is there really any reason to keep the ATF around?