Lawmakers Aim to Restore ATF’s Enforcement Powers

Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., introduced the bill. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., introduced the bill. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The long-troubled Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would regain former enforcement powers and its leader would no longer be subject to Senate confirmation under a new House bill.

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.”

The ATF, which due to political stalemate has gone for years with intermittent acting directors, is currently being led by Deputy Director Thomas Brandon. ATF is part of the Justice Department.

Other bills introduced by Republicans would either cut ATF funding, or, in the case of a bill introduced in March 2015 by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., abolish it.

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