Why boot Marvin Richardson now? The longtime acting ATF director, who spent his entire career at the agency, got demoted this week and replaced temporarily by a US Attorney, Stephen Gutowski reported for The Reload:
Acting Director Marvin Richardson is being demoted, and US Attorney Gary Restaino will take over his position, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the move. The reshuffling was announced by Richardson on a conference call Monday, which left many ATF officials surprised and dismayed. The ATF is expected to announce the move in the coming days.
“The news that he was being replaced came as a shock to most of us within the agency,” one ATF official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, told The Reload.
Richardson is an African-American career ATF official who has spent more than 30 years with the agency. His demotion means he has not only been passed over twice for nomination to become the permanent director but is now being shuffled out of the acting director position mere months before a permanent director may be confirmed. The move follows a recent New York Times article featuring complaints from gun-control activists which labeled Richardson “an industry-friendly subordinate pumping the brakes” on President Biden’s aggressive gun-control initiatives. It risks creating a backlash that could jeopardize the President’s second attempt to install a permanent head for the agency.
Refusing to consider an accomplished Black agent like Richardson for the permanent position may lead to further controversy around Biden’s nomination of Steve Dettelbach.
The New York Times followed up a while later, confirming The Reload’s report. The issue, Glenn Thrush posits, was that Richardson was seen as too friendly to the firearms industry because of an appearance in January at the NSSF’s Shot Show discussing the timeline of new regulation on “ghost guns”:
In late January, days before President Biden reiterated a vow to halt the sale of parts used to make deadly “ghost guns,” the federal official responsible for enacting that policy delivered a far more reassuring message to the gun industry.
The official, Marvin G. Richardson, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told a gathering of weapons manufacturers that the rule banning online sales of untraceable components for homemade weapons — expected to have already been in place — would not be completed until June. It was his first announcement on the timeline.
This jarring split screen — a president demanding action on gun violence and an industry-friendly subordinate pumping the brakes — infuriated some Biden allies. Mr. Richardson’s leadership of A.T.F., they believe, reflected the White House’s waning focus on gun control after the defeat last year of Mr. Biden’s pick to run the bureau, David Chipman, who had vowed to overhaul an agency that has been without a permanent leader since 2015.
That seems a bit tendentious of a description without knowing more about what was specifically said. Richardson’s appearance included a 25-minute on-camera interview that looks like a friendly-but-professional engagement on various programs that the ATF uses to partner with the industry:
As for the rules issue, why would the timing of it have anything to do with this appearance? It takes time to promulgate regulation properly, as the CDC keeps discovering to its regret. Any regulation related to access to firearms and restrictions of a constitutional right would get an immediate challenge, so Richardson would need to make sure it’s bulletproof, pun very much intended. The delay on the rule, if indeed there was any delay, likely resulted at least in part from the disastrous decision to nominate David Chipman as ATF director, an effort that likely froze some efforts at ATF. Furthermore, it makes some sense to reach out to industry groups like NSSF to give them updates on such regulations.
But even if that was the reason for demoting Richardson, why did it take three months to get around to it — and do it just as Biden is trying to get Dettelbach confirmed? Either the White House has little confidence in Dettelbach’s prospects for confirmation, or Joe Biden once again has gotten caught playing checkers in a three-dimensional chess world. This turns what might otherwise have been a rather smooth transition into a chaotic mess if Dettelbach does indeed get confirmed, forcing ATF to go through two leadership changes within a few weeks unnecessarily.
And for no good purpose, either, other than to pander to gun-control activists who got their panties in a wad over not much at all. What will Restaino do in the presumably brief period of time that he’ll sit atop ATF? Clearly he won’t engage with the industry he’ll regulate for a hot second or two. He might push the ghost-gun rule up incrementally, but that assumes that Richardson was holding it back in the first place. Most likely everything will come to a grinding halt as Restaino comes up to speed in an agency where he’s apparently never served, while dealing with the toxic fallout of having the demoted former acting chief still around, whose staff will not likely be too cheery in the interim. Put the optics of demoting one of the few black agency heads there are in the Biden administration, and it’s a recipe for embarrassment and chaos, if not disaster.
Assuming Dettelbach gets confirmed, he’ll have to do this all over again, too. Have fun with that.
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