A senior Republican lawmaker from Wisconsin has proposed a bill to abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a move that could complicate the controversial agency’s job as it tries to dig out of recent scandals.
The so-called “ATF Elimination Act” drafted by Rep. James Sensenbrenner would freeze all hiring at the bureau and transfer many of its duties to other agencies within the Department of Justice, including the Drug Enforcement Agency and FBI.
"We can do the same job more efficiently for less," Sensenbrenner said in a statement. "At a time when we are approaching $18 trillion in debt, we need to demand accountability within our federal agencies and to take a closer look at cutting waste and redundancy."
The ATF has come under heavy criticism from lawmakers in Washington after several sting operations run by the agency backfired, one of which allegedly resulted in the death of at least one of its agents. And while abolishing the ATF has some popularity among gun rights proponents, others think the bureau just needs better management.
“[The National Shooting Sports Foundation] does not favor abolishing ATF and would much prefer the agency be funded at the level required to best carry out its appropriate responsibilities," the firearms industry lobby group told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But some left-leaning groups applaud the move, saying it would “kick off an important debate about whether the ATF’s mission would be better served by transferring agents and responsibilities to the FBI,” the Center for American Progress told the Journal Sentinel.
Sensenbrenner’s bill would call on the DOJ to manage the closure of the ATF and come up with a plan to redistribute its authorities, which includes enforcing federal firearms laws and regulations. And while it is unccertain whether the bill will pass, it’s clear Sensenbrenner is frustrated with the bureau’s scandalous past.
“The ATF is a largely duplicative, scandal-ridden agency that lacks a clear mission,” he said. “It is plagued by backlogs, funding gaps, hiring challenges and a lack of leadership. For decades it has been branded by high profile failures.”