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Mr. Sullivan served as acting director until Jan. 20, 2009, stepping down to give the newly elected Obama administration a chance to name it own ATF director.

The National Rifle Association announced its strong opposition to Mr. Traver just two days after the White House announced the nomination, charging that he has been “deeply aligned” with gun-control advocates and anti-gun activities.

“This makes him the wrong choice to lead an enforcement agency that has almost exclusive oversight and control over the firearms industry, its retailers and consumers,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action in a November 2010 statement.

The NRA cited Mr. Traver’s role as an adviser to the “Gun Violence Reduction Project,” an initiative of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Joyce Foundation that, among other things, recommended banning an array of weapons and urged the adoption of restrictive regulations for gun shows.

The Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, which lists gun violence as one its main issues, has been described as the country’s biggest donor of anti-gun grants, giving out $54 million since 1993 to advocacy groups, think tanks and researchers, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

One of its major beneficiaries has been the Violence Policy Center, a tax-exempt nonprofit group based in Washington that has called for an outright ban on handguns, semi-automatic rifles and other firearms, and substantial restrictions on gun owners. The group received $4.1 million from 1996 to 2006.

Mr. Obama served on the Joyce Foundation’s board of directors from 1994 to 2002.

‘Balance the needs’

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said his organization continues to oppose Mr. Traver’s nomination and question his ability as director to “balance the needs of law-abiding gun owners and going after criminals.” The NRA has 4 million members.

ATF has been at the center of a firestorm about the Fast and Furious investigation that allowed guns to make their way to drug cartels in Mexico, with scores of weapons ending up at scenes of violent crimes, including the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry. In August, the Justice Department removed Kenneth E. Melson as acting ATF director — a position he had held since 2009 — and replaced him with a new acting director, B. Todd Jones, who also remains as the U.S. attorney in Minnesota.

Mr. Grassley and Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have been investigating Fast and Furious for several months. They said in a July report that 1,000 weapons purchased in the operation are still unaccounted for, including AK-47 assault weapons and .50-caliber sniper rifles.

Fast and Furious has drawn widespread criticism. Veteran ATF agents testified before Congress that allowing weapons to be taken unabated to buyers in Mexico was not a recognized investigative technique. They said hundreds of weapons ultimately went to ruthless criminals in Mexico.

Mr. Obama has said he did not authorize the program, and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also has pleaded ignorance, calling for an investigation of the operation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General.

Some members of Congress want Mr. Traver confirmed soon, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“I encourage my colleagues in the Senate to move swiftly to confirm Traver and provide the agency with much-needed leadership,” he said, referring to the five years without a permanent director.

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