Abolishing the ATF: Why It Makes More Sense Than Ever Before

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Well, this one is rich. The Biden administration has issued a questionable attack against critics of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), one of its most cherished institutions. It claims Republicans who are attacking the agency are helping Mexican drug cartels smuggle more fentanyl into the United States.

Republicans have been speaking out against the ATF’s approach to regulating guns. The Biden administration, in particular, has been leaning on the agency to make it harder for Americans to keep and bear arms since he has not been able to get any meaningful anti-gun legislation passed through Congress.

In an exchange with NBC News, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates sent a statement claiming that Republicans are working to subvert the president’s effort to prevent drug traffickers from obtaining firearms.

“MAGA Republican extremism in Congress is a growing threat to the fight against violent crime and fentanyl trafficking. President Biden is working hard to prevent the flow of firearms into the hands of drug cartels, as part of a comprehensive strategy to block the flow of fentanyl into the United States. But hardcore MAGA members of Congress are doing everything they can to thwart these efforts.”

“MAGA Republicans in Congress are trying to defund and abolish the ATF, the federal law enforcement agency responsible for helping stop the flow of firearms into the hands of gun traffickers,” the spokesperson added, also claiming that “assault weapons purchased in the United States are arming drug cartels and enabling them to outgun law enforcement.”

NBC News noted:

Researchers and government officials from both sides of the border have long tried to stop the so-called Iron Pipeline of U.S. guns, often assault-style rifles, that are smuggled into Mexico, where firearms are difficult to purchase legally. U.S. government estimates have found that as many as 70% of guns recovered by Mexican law enforcement agencies originate in the U.S.

Indeed, several Republican members of Congress have lashed out at the ATF on multiple occasions, some even calling for the abolition of the agency. During a congressional hearing in March over the agency issuing a new rule banning pistol braces, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) said he wishes to “put an end to this ATF overreach,” and suggested reducing funding or to even “eliminate all funding.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has called for abolishing the ATF on numerous occasions. He introduced a bill that would achieve this purpose.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) questioned “why the ATF should remain an agency at all.”

In the past, Republican lawmakers including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) have introduced other bills that would do away with the ATF.

Nevertheless, whether one agrees with Republicans’ arguments or not, the Biden administration’s argument is deeply flawed. As RedState’s Joe Cunningham so aptly pointed out:

But the connection between the ATF and the fentanyl crisis is less clear than the White House is making it out to be. Border Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Administration are the agencies that are/should be dealing with such crises at the border. The ATF’s role is, at best, tangential in pursuing the guns cartels use to defend transports and commit their crimes.

To put it simply, this agency has little or nothing to do with stopping drug cartels from shipping deadly fentanyl across the southern border. This is a fact the administration is fully aware of, but it knows that regular folks might not understand this reality.

Moreover, there are valid arguments for abolishing the ATF. One of the main criticisms of the ATF is its tendency to expand the scope of firearms laws beyond their original intent. For example, the agency has reinterpreted laws regulating “machine guns” to include certain types of semi-automatic firearms. This has resulted in confusion among gun owners and has led to the ATF seizing legally owned firearms from law-abiding citizens.

Furthermore, the ATF has been accused of using its regulatory authority to effectively ban certain types of firearms without going through the legislative process. For example, the ATF has attempted to ban ammunition commonly used in the popular AR-15 rifle, despite the fact that the ammunition is widely available and legal under federal law.

In addition to its questionable regulatory practices, the ATF has also been criticized for its enforcement tactics. In some cases, the ATF has used aggressive and heavy-handed tactics to investigate and prosecute firearms violations. For example, the ATF famously botched an operation in 1993, known as the Waco Siege, which resulted in the deaths of four ATF agents and 76 civilians.

The notion that disbanding the ATF would somehow cause more Americans to be killed due to being poisoned by fentanyl coming over the southern border is absurd. But the White House’s contention is even more egregious when you consider how little it has done to stop the flow of the opioid into the country.

Tens of thousands of Americans died last year due to ingesting the drug – mostly without their knowledge. Yet, Biden continues pushing open borders policies that have given the cartels a field day when it comes to trafficking drugs – and people – into the country. Perhaps instead of looking for a scapegoat, the president should do his damn job.

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