The highly influential Center for American Progress, which has deep ties to the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton, recently released an extensive report calling for the nation’s lead agency on gun regulation to be merged into the FBI.
The generalities of the center’s 182-page report were widely covered by media upon its release last May. However, the details in the report were largely unmentioned, including by conservative media agencies.
The center’s report explains how merging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, into the FBI can result in more a proactive approach to gun regulation. That would include stepping up the collection of trace data on gun owners; more policing of sales at gun shows and the Internet; and enhanced gun regulation functions.
The report and other recent center recommendations may provide a window into the thinking of a future Clinton administration, with Clinton taking a strong anti-gun stance as part of her presidential campaign.
CAP was founded by John Podesta, who directed Obama’s transition into the White House in 2009 and served as White House counselor until earlier this year, when he took on the role of chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The ATF’s primary mission is supposed to be to police the illegal market of guns and to target the criminal use of weapons.
However, the CAP report finds the ATF is “struggling” to successfully carry out its core functions. The report cites inadequate oversight and accountability throughout the agency, limited resources, operating restrictions and what it claims is a lack of effective coordination with other law enforcement agencies, especially the FBI.
The center says a merger with the FBI will allow the federal government to more effectively address interstate firearms trafficking, particularly by stepping up the collection of data on legal gun owners. The data collection, the report claims, is intended to be used “to identify patterns and trends in the movement of crime guns around the country and to develop innovative investigations into trafficking networks based on these data.”
The report laments that “to the extent that agents have taken on trafficking cases, they have largely focused on reactive cases, meaning that they often pursue these cases after a major gun crime has been committed.”
Instead, CAP recommends the stepped-up collection of data on gun owners, with particular focus on the eTrace system.
ETrace does not electronically tag any of the guns. It serves as an online database that contains all registered information for each gun, including the personal information for all registered owners as well as whether law enforcement has information the gun was ever used in a crime. In essence, eTrace is a giant firearms monitoring database.
The gun only traces legal owners. Once a gun enters the black market, the system cannot provide future information on a firearm unless the weapon is retrieved in a crime or once again enters into official registration.
Policing gun shows, Internet sales
The CAP report concludes the ATF is lapsing in its ability to police gun shows using current law, which stipulates it is illegal for individuals to sell guns to those who they know or have reason to suspect are prohibited from gun possession.
The ATF is also falling behind, the report says, in regulating the sale of guns by individuals who conduct the sale “as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit” without first obtaining an ATF federal firearms.
The bureau “has only attempted sporadic enforcement efforts at gun shows and on the Internet, and it does not seem to have a concerted strategy to address gun trafficking via these venues,” the report finds.
The ATF is also not currently giving enough priority to “looking for signs of diversion and identifying high-risk dealers,” adds the report.
The CAP paper was authored by the group’s vice president on guns and crime policy, Chelsea Parsons, and by its senior vice president, Arkadi Gerney.
Gerney previously worked as special adviser and first deputy criminal justice coordinator for former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, where Gerney managed Bloomberg’s national anti-gun campaign, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Previous Democrat attempts
The center is not the first to recommend that the ATF merge with the FBI. In 1993, Vice President Al Gore conducted a National Performance Review which concluded that the ATF should be absorbed by the FBI to end what the report said was the “fragmentation and jurisdictional overlap” between the agencies. The review said such a merger “will result in a more unified, comprehensive and coordinated attack on criminal enterprises.”
Also in 1993, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who has a long history of close ties to the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, introduced a bill calling for the transfer of the ATF’s firearms regulation function to the FBI.
The ATF has previously been a part of other government agencies. It was originally founded as an arm of the Department of the Treasury to collect taxes on spirits and tobacco products. It was transferred to the Justice Department via the Homeland Security Act in 2002.
A DOJ spokesman told the Washington Post in May that the agency “supports ATF in its current form and believes Congress should fully fund the president’s budget request that will enhance ATF’s ability to carry out their important mission.”
‘Fast and Furious,’ fraudulent stats and eTrace
Project Gunrunner, the controversial ATF program that aimed to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico, under the Obama administration has contributed to fraudulent statistics apparently targeting U.S. gun owners.
In February 2008, William Hoover, ATF assistant director for field operations, testified before Congress that more than 90 percent of the firearms that have been recovered in or intercepted in transport to Mexico originated from various sources within the U.S.
Hoover’s statistics officially were released by the ATF and subsequently were cited in a flurry of media reports claiming the vast majority of illicit firearms in Mexico originate in the U.S.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office also used the ATF’s 90 percent statistic in an official report to Congress about American firearms. The Justice Department even incorporated the data in several of its programs.
After a series of independent reports contradicted the ATF claims, however, the bureau then admitted in November 2010 that its 90 percent figure cited to Congress “could be misleading” because it applied only to the small portion of guns verified through its eTrace system, the Internet-based firearm database that Project Gunrunner was built around.
The ATF admitted its statistics were based on the guns it traced, all of which originated in the U.S., thus skewing the data.
Project Gunrunner was launched under President Bush as a bipartisan effort in 2005. It began as a pilot run by ATF in conjunction with the Justice Department and the FBI.
While the operation was run by a few dozen officers under Bush, it received an infusion of cash from the Obama administration, becoming a full-time project staffed by more than 200.
As WND previously reported, tucked away inside Obama’s stimulus was $10 million in funding for the ATF’s Project Gunrunner. This is in addition to $11 million already provided to the program under Obama and another $12 million more requested by the White House for the end of 2011.
Project Gunrunner is purportedly meant to stop the sale and export of U.S. guns to Mexico by denying Mexican drug cartels firearms. However, the project allegedly has resulted in allowing thousands of guns to cross into Mexico, where many of the weapons currently are untraceable and in the hands of Mexican criminals.
The same guns run into Mexico under the Project Gunrunner scheme have been recovered from crime scenes in Arizona and throughout Mexico.
One gun recovered is allegedly the weapon used to murder Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry on Dec. 14, 2010.
The entire project revolves around tracing the U.S. guns that are allowed into Mexico using the eTrace system.
The ATF repeatedly has stated its tracing system was not designed to collect statistics. Still, the agency used information it claimed to have garnered from Project Gunrunner to release what turned out to be highly misleading information about U.S. guns.