Merge ATF with FBI? Not So Fast

Merge ATF with FBI? Not So Fast

Just about all sides in Washington agree that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is a mess. Its record of management failures is dismal even by bureaucratic standards, and fiascoes like the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas and the "Fast & Furious" gunrunning scheme would be humorous in the Keystone Kops fashion had they not resulted in so many deaths.


Now the Center For American Progress, a left-wing think tank, has issued a 182-page report detailing the agency's foibles and suggesting it be merged into the FBI.

The fact that the CAP is practically an arm of the Obama administration and hardly a friend of the gun owner should immediately induce caution. The gun community has a justified disdain for the BATF, which repeatedly has persecuted law-abiding citizens and gun dealers on trumped-up charges. But we shouldn't be in a great hurry to see it subsumed onto the FBI. Let's let the CAP explain its reasoning:

"The FBI is a politically strong and well-respected agency and is therefore able to operate above the fray of politics with adequate funding and resources. The FBI director typically serves a 10-year term across presidencies and through numerous election cycles, which serves to shield the agency's work from the vicissitudes of elections, partisan politics, and interest group lobbying. And, as is relevant here, the FBI is already deeply involved in federal efforts to combat and prevent gun violence."

So, in other words, let's take the gun controlling out from under a universally disdained and distrusted agency with a long track record of failure and put it under a well-respected agency that Republican politicians will hesitate to criticize. Um, that's not progress to me.


The Reagan administration suggested abolishing the BATF and moving its functions under the Secret Service. NRA scotched that idea on grounds that the last agency you want enforcing firearms law is one with "secret" in its name. In the last few years of course, the once-respected Secret Service has gotten a BATF-level reputation, between cavorting with Colombian prostitutes, drunk-driving arrests and allowing intruders in the White House.

So what would be an improvement over the current BATF? Jeff Cooper suggested moving it under the Civilian Marksmanship Program, but he may have been kidding about that. Many experts have suggested splitting its functions, with the regulatory side under the Treasury Department and the crime-busting troops under the FBI.

Leaving it as is probably remains the best option for our side. It's the devil we know, and that usually beats the devil you don't. It was interesting that B. Todd Jones, who recently left the agency for a cushy job with the National Football League, actually gave the most succinct summary of why a merger would be a bad idea.


"As much as the ATF gets beat up, merging the agency with the primary responsibility of enforcing the Gun Control Act while respecting the Second Amendment with the agency that has the primary responsibility for national security would be a very dangerous thing."

Maybe Jones wasn't so bad after all.

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