ATF Director Shoots at the Wrong Targets

February 6th, 2006



Here’s a comforting thought. As gang members, drug dealers, terrorists, white supremacists and your basic garden variety thug are buying and selling illegal guns, the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is obsessing over window treatments, wood paneling options, and soap dishes as he renovates his new office suite.

I have nothing against Feng Shui, but there is a time and place for choosing tile and a time and place for … well, doing your job.

In the case of ATF Director Carl Truscott, doing your job means enforcing the nation’s gun laws. But an Inspector General’s report that was uncovered today in the Washington Post, reveals that enforcing the nation’s gun laws is running a distant second to the ATF’s headquarters opulent construction project.

This dovetails nicely with the points we made in our Message Memo Taking Back the Second Amendment. Truscott’s obsession with decor provides progressives with yet another opportunity to point out this Administration’s failure to do their jobs when it comes to gun crime: enforcing the laws on the books.

The Post story is troubling on three fronts. First is the waste—the project is $19 million over budget. Second, is the Martha Stewart-like focus on the most minute detail by Director Truscott. Paint colors, soap dishes, shower curtains vs. shower stalls (the decision is to go with curtains), trim, molding, and flooring have all been preoccupying this high-ranking official. Third, is the looting of ATF’s core budget for spare parts. Between Mr. Truscott’s trips to the Expo Design Center, the heads of the eight ATF directorates were asked to submit budgets with twenty to thirty percent cutbacks. There is now no money in the budget, for example, for replacing 500 bulletproof vests and 300 cars for agents.

ATF has never been a favorite of conservatives. After all, Ronald Reagan tried to abolish ATF in the 1980s, and the NRA famously referred to ATF agents as jackbooted thugs. So building a palace for the director seems a bit of an about face by this President. But maybe this is part of the plan; maybe Bush wants to spend more on copper bathroom fixtures so that we can spend even less on enforcement.

It’s hard to imagine even less of a commitment to enforcement, though. As I found at Americans for Gun Safety a few years ago, twenty of the twenty-two federal gun laws are enforced so rarely they might as well not exist. That report showed that in 2003, the Justice Department filed only 188 cases against gun traffickers, 32 against corrupt gun stores, 532 cases for trying to cheat one’s way past a background check, 5 cases for selling guns to minors, and 89 cases for possessing or selling a gun with its serial number filed off – across the entire nation! That’s a record you can’t sweep under the rug. Even a really nice, imported rug.