I just happened to be listening to Roy Orbison singing "Sweet Dreams, Baby," when I ran across this:
The Hill: New Ashcroft Power Has Gun Control Supporters Fuming
6/24/03 7:04:00 PM
To: National Desk, Media Reporter
Contact: Bob Cusack of The Hill, 202-628-8350
WASHINGTON, June 24 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Gun control supporters are concerned about a provision in the Homeland Security Act that gives Attorney General John Ashcroft, a supporter of gun owners' rights, the authority to select the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Business & Lobbying Editor Bob Cusack reports in the June 25, 2003, issue of The Hill.
ATF was moved from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department under the homeland security reorganization. Under Treasury, the ATF head was customarily a career civil servant; now the position has been upgraded to a political level. "Oh, geez, that could be extremely dangerous," said Chris McGrath, executive director of the group Handgun-Free America.
By Bob Cusack
To the surprise and dismay of gun control advocates, a little-noticed provision in the Homeland Security Act gives Attorney General John Ashcroft the authority to select the head of a government agency charged with enforcing gun laws.
Although the sensitive position has been upgraded under the new law to a political level, it remains exempt from Senate confirmation.
Gun control groups accuse Ashcroft of being the most pro-gun attorney general in recent history. When told that Ashcroft has free rein to choose whomever he wants to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), key gun control advocates said they were unaware of the change.
Prior to the reorganization, the ATF director was named by the secretary of the Treasury and reported to the under secretary for enforcement. By custom, he was also a career civil servant, The Homeland Security Act of 2002 transferred the law enforcement agency from Treasury to the Department of Justice.
While prior directors of ATF were also not subject to Senate confirmation, it nevertheless has surprised and irked some gun experts that Congress did not require Senate approval under the post 9-11 reorganization plan.
The Homeland Security Act states, "The (ATF) director shall be appointed by the attorney general and shall perform such functions as the attorney general shall direct."
This language worries Chris McGrath, executive director of Handgun-Free America. When told Ashcroft is now in charge of selecting the next head of ATF, McGrath said, "Oh, geez, that could be extremely dangerous. Ashcroft aligns himself with the NRA (National Rifle Association)....ATF's move to Justice theoretically makes sense, but the problem is that it's under Ashcroft."
The selection of an ATF director is a key decision for Ashcroft because it could attract controversy against the backdrop of the coming 2004 election.
ATF agents, inspectors, and support staff have been involved in investigating some of the most violent crimes in society, in regulating some of the most important and sensitive industries in America, and in collecting more than $15 billion in annual revenue.
The agency is broadly charged with enforcing federal laws and regulations that relate to alcohol, tobacco, firearms, explosives and arson.
Ashcroft could possibly dodge a public relations uproar by naming acting director Bradley A. Buckles to the post. Buckles, who has been acting chief since 1999, is widely respected among ATF employees.
But some speculate that the NRA, which years ago referred to ATF agents as "jack-booted government thugs," would rather have an ATF director who has a strong pro-gun rights record.
An NRA spokeswoman said the group is not lobbying for any candidate for ATF. Gun control advocates dispute this claim, arguing that there is no way that NRA has adopted a hands-off lobbying approach.
Mathew Nosanchuk, litigation director and legislative counsel for the Violence Policy Center, said previous ATF directors have enforced gun laws. Now that the ATF post is a political appointee, "there is a potential for meddling" that "could heighten tension between the FBI and ATF," Nosanchuk said.
He added that this issue underscores the larger concerns over what has happened to ATF under Ashcroft's watch.
"People (at ATF) are already concerned with (Ashcroft's policies,)" McGrath echoed.
McGrath pointed out that in late 2001, Ashcroft issued a memo to all U.S. attorneys that significantly changed the government's policies on the Second Amendment, putting a greater emphasis on gun owners' rights.
A spokesperson for Ashcroft did not respond to a request for comment.
It is unclear whether Ashcroft will soon announce his selection for ATF. But some observers speculate that if the administration wants to appoint a controversial candidate, it will do so this year so that any controversy would subside in the 2004 campaign season.
Gun control has not dominated the political scene recently and political experts believe the White House does not want to put the issue back on the table. NRA this year is pushing for a gun liability bill and a repeal of the federal assault weapons ban, which will expire in September 2004 unless Congress renews it.
President Bush supports the repeal of the ban, but has not particularly championed the cause. The president's tepid support has some political observers believing that Bush does not want to risk the "soccer mom" vote by pushing a gun rights agenda as he revs up to seek a second term.
/© 2003 U.S. Newswire 202-347-2770/