Urge the Senate to swiftly fill the position of director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Summary

In 2020, more than 45,000 Americans died as victims of gun violence. Gun tragedies – from Buffalo to Uvalde to Highland Park to the countless incidents of gun violence that go unreported in the press and unnoticed by the American public – have become a disturbing, shameful, and terrifying part of American life.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for enforcing laws on the use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives. However, the ATF has not had a permanent director since 2015 and has had only one confirmed by the Senate since 2006. In response to the rise in mass shootings and gun deaths, the Senate must not delay in voting to confirm a permanent director.

Tell the Senate to fill the ATF Director position and provide the ATF with the leadership it needs to enforce gun laws and protect all Americans.

Background:

Since 1972, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has been the federal law enforcement agency in the Department of Justice, tasked with enforcing federal laws and protecting communities from gun violence as well as domestic extremism, religious violence, and arson. The ATF’s work is key to keep illegal guns off our streets and out of the hands of those who should not have them.

In 2006, the law was changed to require Senate confirmation for the ATF director position. Since then, only one director has been confirmed by the Senate, leaving the ATF without stable, permanent, Senate-confirmed leadership at a critical and deadly juncture in American history. It has been seven years since the ATF had a Senate-confirmed leader, which has severely constrained the ATF’s ability to enforce existing federal laws, executive actions, advocate for its needs as an agency, and respond to up-and-coming dangers.

Over the past seven years and particularly during the pandemic, gun sales surged to record levels with more than 18.9 million firearms sold in 2021. ATF data shows increases in key indicators of gun trafficking during 2020, including that nearly twice as many crime guns were recovered within 3 months of purchase compared with 2019. ATF inspections of federally licensed gun dealers have been cut by more than half, allowing rogue gun dealers to escape accountability: the ATF reports that there were 5,800 firearm compliance inspections in 2020 compared to more than 13,000 inspections in 2019. At the ATF’s 2020 rate of inspections, it would take 22 years to inspect every current federally licensed dealer.

Another urgent concern is the increase in sales of ghost guns, which are unserialized and untraceable guns that are often bought online and assembled at home weapon in as little as 30 minutes. Due to the anonymous and accessible nature of ghost guns, these weapons have increasingly been recovered at crime scenes by law enforcement. In 2020, there were approximately 20,000 suspected ghost guns reported to the ATF as having been recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations – a ten-fold increase from 2016. In April 2022, the Biden Administration issued a new executive order banning the manufacture of the most accessible ghost guns and identifying such guns as firearms under the Gun Control Act, meaning sellers must be licensed and run background checks on purchasers, and manufacturers must be licensed and include serial numbers on the ghost gun kits’ frame or receiver.

The ATF requires permanent leadership to fully address these and other critical issues to prevent gun violence, modernize the AFT, and make our communities safer. The confirmation process allows the Senate to convey their concerns to the nominee, ensure the accountability of the ATF Director to the Senate, and fulfill the Senate’s Constitutional obligation of “advice and consent.” Delay is unconscionable when there are so many lives and communities relying on the ATF’s work.

On May 25, 2022, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on President Biden’s ATF nominee, Steven Dettelbach. Now, the Judiciary Committee must advance the nomination forward to a full Senate vote, and the Senate must act swiftly fill the position and protect American communities.

Jewish Values:

Jewish tradition upholds the sanctity of human life. The Talmud teaches, “One who takes a life, it is though they have destroyed the universe. And one who saves a life, it is as though they have saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). The Senate must use the power vested in them by the American people to quickly fill the position of ATF director and enable the ATF to uphold and strengthen their vital work in protecting all Americans from illegal guns and the terrible pain and suffering such weapons exact on our communities.

For More Information:

You can email your elected officials through our form or call the Capitol Switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to speak directly with their offices. For more information on this issue, visit the RAC’s pages on gun violence prevention or contact Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Shayna Han.

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