The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives hasn’t done well in terms of having directors put into office since the position first required Senate confirmation in 2006. Byron Todd Jones was the director last year, but no replacement has been confirmed since his departure for a position with the NFL and the agency is currently led by Acting Director Thomas Brandon. The Democrats are looking to change this situation with a new bill which would reinstate certain investigative functions and allow the President to appoint the director without confirmation by the Senate. Needless to say, this won’t be going over well with everyone. (Government Executive)

The ATF Enforcement Act (H.R. 4905), introduced by Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., would lift “procedural blocks” that Congress put in place through multi-year “appropriations riders” that restrict the agency’s ability to enforce gun laws by removing limitations on operations and day-to-day functions. It would relax, for example, rules that restrict the ATF from using gun trace data to crack down on bad actor gun dealers whose products end up used in crimes.

“Gun violence kills over 30,000 people each year, yet gun-lobby-backed congressmen and women took advantage of procedural tricks to handicap the ATF from enforcing our gun laws,” Beyer said in a release on the bill that has nine other Democratic co-sponsors. “Since the ATF director position was first made subject to Senate confirmation in 2006, lawmakers backed by the gun lobby have refused to confirm the nominees of both Democratic and Republican presidents. This vacuum at the very top severely hampers ATF’s ability to carry out its mission.”

There are a two different aspects to this bill which will draw fire from Republicans and conservatives, making it unlikely to pass muster in Congress. The first is the issue of naming the new director. The process by which this is done is pretty much up to the legislature. Article II Section 2 of the Constitution specifies a few offices which must adhere to the advise and consent standard, but beyond that it leaves such inferior officers, as they think proper up to the congress to decide whether or not any approval is required. Prior to 2006 the President simply appointed whomever he liked.

If we’re going to have an ATF at all (and that’s being disputed by James Sensenbrenner, among others, who have a bill in the works to abolish it) then it makes sense to keep the Senate in the loop regarding the appointment of the director. Their reputation in the current era hasn’t exactly been sterling to say the least. And given the segment of American life which the bureau directly impacts, politicizing the position by putting in a fervent anti-gun rights advocate would open the door to far too much mischief.

That brings us to the other portion of the new bill which will probably leave it dead on arrival. Contained in Beyer’s bill is another provision which would restore the ATF’s ability to use gun trace data to identify “bad actors” among gun dealers who sell weapons which end up being used in crimes. We already have a system in place wherein background checks are used to determine who can or cannot purchase a gun. If some of those weapons are later stolen or illegally resold to criminals, that’s beyond the control of the gun dealer, and the criminals who engage in such theft or illegal sales need to be prosecuted accordingly. Allowing the ATF to target the gun shops in question is simply a back door route to more gun control.

I highly doubt that this proposal will even make it to a vote, but if it does we just wanted it to be on your radar.