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Sensenbrenner working on bill to dissolve ATF

Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is working on legislation to dissolve the ATF.
Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is working on legislation to dissolve the ATF.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

An aide to Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner confirmed to Examiner this morning that the veteran Republican congressman is working on legislation that would dissolve the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, merging the embattled agency into other federal law enforcement entities, as reported yesterday by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

A bill is not yet finished, but Sensenbrenner’s office noted that ATF functions could be absorbed by other agencies such as the FBI and U.S. Marshals. The agency has been in the bull’s eye over the past few years for such massive blunders as Operation Fast and Furious and the more recent storefront sting operations in Milwaukee, and in Oregon and Florida.

Fast and Furious resulted in the loss of some 2,000 firearms into the criminal pipeline, and guns have been turning up for the past few years at Mexican crime scenes. The guns ended up in the hands of drug cartel gunmen, and also at the southern Arizona gunfight in which Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in December 2010.

It was Terry’s slaying, and the recovery of a gun sold the previous January as part of the Fast and Furious operation that ignited the scandal, thanks primarily to reports originally published by National Gun Rights Examiner David Codrea and independent journalist/blogger Mike Vanderboegh. Former CBS investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson and Fox News journalist William LaJeunesse also covered the scandal extensively,. and Attkisson won an Emmy for her coverage. Codrea was also honored by the Second Amendment Foundation for his part in breaking the story.

Fast and Furious led to a series of Capitol Hill hearings before Congressman Darrell Issa’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. None of the key people involved ever lost their jobs, but some retired, including acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson. Subpoenaed documents relating to the scandal were given executive privilege by President Barack Obama, leading to considerable speculation that the White House was somehow involved in the operation to flood Mexico with American-source firearms, thus justifying further record-keeping requirements on gun sales in four southwestern states.

In a statement to the Journal-Sentinel, Sensenbrenner noted, “By absorbing the ATF into existing law enforcement entities, we can preserve the areas where the ATF adds value for substantially less taxpayer money. While searching for its mission, the ATF has been plagued by decades of high-profile blunders....We cannot afford to ignore clear changes that will greatly enhance the government's efficiency.”

Over the years, the ATF has gained a reputation for bungled operations, perhaps the most notorious being the Waco, Tex., shootout with the Branch Davidians that ignited a 51-day siege at their Mount Carmel compound in 1993. That siege ended when federal authorities mounted an assault that caused a massive fire in which many people, including Branch Davidian leader David Koresh.