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White House Avoidance of Gun Issue Weakens Critical Law Enforcement Agency
WASHINGTON - August 4 - The year and a half delay by President Barack Obama in naming a director to oversee the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives has seriously weakened efforts to enforce Federal firearms laws, thus jeopardizing public safety and national security.
The President has left ATF leaderless even while armed extremists have attacked military posts, museums, political targets and even the Pentagon. Approximately 45,000 Americans have been killed by guns and 150,000 have been shot and injured since President Obama took office.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence today issued a report on the consequences of this lack of leadership on the gun issue by the President. The organization sent a letter to President Obama on June 10 stressing the importance of naming a Director for ATF, but has not received a response.
ATF officials are now facing a foreign policy crisis exacerbated by the nation's weak gun laws, as tens of thousands of firearms have flooded across America's southern border to Mexican drug cartels killing thousands and threatening that country's democratically elected government.
"The failure to nominate an ATF director for over a year and a half is unprecedented and threatens our nation's ability to combat gun crime and trafficking that arms criminals and terrorists," the report states. "No other President has allowed this critical position to remain vacant for so long."
The ATF, part of the Justice Department, has not even had an Acting Director since November 2009, when Ken Melson was required to step down due to statutory limits on how long an Acting Director can serve. There have been rumors for months that someone might be appointed, but still no formal announcement has been made. Meanwhile, Congress is now debating legislation misnamed the ATF Reform and Firearms Modernization Act, which would severely limit ATF's ability to revoke the Federal firearms licenses of gun dealers who lose hundreds of firearms from their inventories without any record of sale.
"Some have suggested that President Obama has shied away from making a nomination for fear of resistance from the powerful gun lobby," the report argues. "As Senator and Presidential candidate, Obama was a forceful advocate for reasonable gun laws, but as President he has been unwilling to show any leadership on the issue. President Obama has signed into law legislation allowing guns in national parks and shielding important crime gun data from public view, contrary to the positions he expressed before taking office. Whatever the reason for the prolonged vacancy, the practical result is that public safety is endangered, foreign policy is threatened, ATF is less able to ‘enforce the laws on the books,' morale at the agency suffers, and important legislation that would keep communities safe remains in limbo."
There have been repeated incidents that illustrate the law enforcement need for a strong ATF, including:
- In 2009, in Little Rock, Arkansas, one soldier was killed and another was injured when Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, who was on the FBI's radar, opened fire on a military recruiting center with a semiautomatic rifle.
- Less than two weeks later, a man with a prior felony conviction shot and killed a security guard at the National Holocaust Museum.
- Then, in November 2009, thirteen servicemen and women were killed in a gun massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. An additional thirty people were injured.
- In March 2010, a gunman with a history of mental illness and a drug conviction obtained two firearms and shot two Pentagon officers. The shooter was able to obtain guns despite his status as a prohibited purchaser.
- In July 2010, convicted felon Byron Williams engaged in a 12-minute gun battle with police after he was stopped due to erratic driving. The chance traffic stop prevented a massacre, as he was on his way to "start a revolution" by launching an armed attack on two San Francisco non-profit organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union and Tides Foundation.
"The Obama White House's inaction and silence about the gun issue puts public safety as well as the nation's security at risk," Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke said. "Firearms are flowing into the hands of extremists who say they want to overthrow the government, and into the hands of drug cartel killers who want to destabilize our neighbors to the south. How can we enforce any of the laws on the books, which are already much too weak, when the agency most responsible for that enforcement goes over a year and a half with no leadership?"