The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Peter Hamm, 202-289-5792,

White House Avoidance of Gun Issue Weakens Critical Law Enforcement Agency


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.

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.


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

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
  • 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

"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

Brady United formerly known as The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative and grassroots affiliate, the Brady Campaign and its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence. We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.