Responding to a call for stricter enforcement of gun laws, the White House on Tuesday blamed Republican lawmakers for failing to adequately fund federal efforts to regulate firearms.
“There obviously is more that we’d like to see Congress do to support those efforts,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “We believe that the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] could be even more effective if they were getting the proper level of support and funding from the United States Congress.”
He was responding to a report Tuesday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group with close ties to the White House, calling for ATF to be merged with the FBI for greater enforcement of gun regulations.
The Center said its two-year study of ATF found that the agency can’t keep up with the challenges of enforcing gun laws and regulating the firearms industry.
“Too often, the leadership, management, and resources lag behind the dedication of the agents,” said Arkadi Gerney, the Center’s senior vice president. “With 33 people murdered with guns in the United States every day, it is time to think big about how best to fulfill ATF’s mission.”
The report said ATF has suffered from a “leadership vacuum,” going seven years without a confirmed director before the Senate approved B. Todd Jones in August 2013, who recently resigned. In its report, CAP said the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have worked to keep ATF as an ineffective agency by lobbying Congress to keep it “underresourced.”
“Particularly in the past two decades, the gun lobby … has sought to enforce an iron grip over Washington, using both its significant financial resources and its ability to mobilize its members to coerce and cajole Congress into doing its bidding,” the report says.
Mr. Earnest said that the accusation “certainly is consistent with the kinds of cynical political tactics that we’ve seen Republicans use in the past.”
But a spokeswoman for the NRA said the real problem with the agency is Mr. Obama’s anti-Second Amendment agenda.
“The Obama administration has only contributed to ATF’s dysfunction by politicizing the agency to implement its gun-control agenda,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker. “Regardless of where ATF is located, the reality is that nothing will change until we have a president who respects the Second Amendment.”
Some conservative lawmakers also have called for the ATF’s role to be merged with the FBI or the Drug Enforcement Administration. The agency has had a series of scandals over the years, ranging from the deadly 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, to the “Fast and Furious” gun-running operation.
Earlier this year, the ATF was forced to back down on a proposal to ban certain rifle ammo after encountering strong opposition from gun owners and the manufacturing industry.
Mr. Earnest said the administration “believes strongly in the mission of the ATF.”
“They have important work,” he said. “They have important responsibility to provide for the public safety of the American people.”
The ATF has an annual budget of slightly more than $1.1 billion, far less than the roughly $8 billion of the FBI. In addition to tracking firearms, the agency investigates bombings and has responsibility for regulating explosives, and stopping illegal trafficking of alcohol and cigarettes.
A Justice Department inspector general’s report in 2013 found the agency was incapable of inspecting a majority of the nation’s 137,000 gun dealers and other licensees within the mandated five-year time frame.
CAP’s report came out the same day that Sens. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, and Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, introduced legislation to prevent the ATF from requiring Americans to disclose their race or ethnicity in connection with the purchase of a firearm.
The senators said they were responding to a move last year by ATF to implement a change to a certain federal form requiring firearm purchasers to disclose both their race and ethnicity.
“The right of law-abiding citizens to own firearms is an individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that has nothing to do with race or ethnicity,” Mr. Blunt said.