Building Criticism of ATF Over Mexican Guns Could Kill The Agency


The scandal over a gunrunning investigation allegedly botched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could do what years of criticism of the long-beleaguered agency never accomplished — result in its demise, says So say some former ATF employees and advocates on both sides of the gun control debate who have watched the agency struggle to contain the damage from an operation intended to trace the traffic of illegal guns to Mexico. The furor has reignited the harsh criticism often directed at the ATF in the past.

ATF, which moved from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department in 2003, has been without a permanent director for nearly five years. Nominees of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have languished without Senate approval after drawing strong opposition from the National Rifle Association. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said of ATF, “It cannot continue the way it's going now. [] Right now, ATF is so weak it's amazing.” Christopher Cox, legislative director for the NRA, the agency's longtime nemesis, also said arguments for shuttering or breaking up ATF are building. “Their criminal investigation tactics are going a long way to proving that point,” Cox said. “If they cease to be an effective law enforcement organization, they will cease to be legitimate, and the calls for restructuring or abolishing of ATF are going to become more and more valid.”

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