The gun lobby for six years has prevented confirmation of a leader for the longstanding federal agency overseeing the nation's gun laws.
That kind of lobbying success underscores the power of grassroots zealotry to paralyze Washington even when most voters oppose widespread sale of the kind of assault weapons used by a mentally disturbed man to kill 27 last week at a Connecticut school.
The Dec. 18 print edition of the Washington Post reported how gun lobbyists for six years have blocked the confirmation of any director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and have targeted its funding and enforcement powers.
"For decades, the National Rifle Association has lobbied successfully to block all attempts to computerize records of gun sales, arguing against any kind of national registry of firearms ownership," wrote reporter Sari Horwitz. "And despite the growth of the gun industry and the nation’s population, ATF has fewer agents today than it did nearly four decades ago: fewer than 2,500."
"If the administration and Congress are serious about addressing this problem, they need to fund the gun police, the agency charged with administering the firearms regulations,” she quoted Michael Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director, as saying. “Unless they are going to do this completely, simply passing some form of gun legislation is only part of the solution.”
House Government Operations Committee Chairman Darryl Issa, right, a Republican from California, has been a dogged critic of ATF and a loyal supporter of the National Rifle Association's efforts to attack the agency.
“ATF has struggled to competently enforce the firearms laws already on the books,” Issa told the Post. “Posing a challenge to an agency needing consistent leadership, the acting director is currently working part time and out of Minneapolis.”
The Senate has stalled for two years President Obama’s nominee to be ATF’s permanent director, Andrew Traver, an ATF supervisor in Chicago. But his nomination has been stalled in the Senate for two years.
Todd Jones, left, is interim acting director of ATF, but he also holds a demanding job as U.S. attorney in Minnesota.
President Obama has asked his Cabinet to consider new legislation.
Listed below are links to news reports on this topic, and other news this week of significant developments within the justice system and relevant media. Among them, I appeared again on New Orleans station WWL on Dec. 18 to comment on the resignation of two more federal prosecutors, Jan and her husband, Jim Mann, in the wake of a "sock puppet" scandal in that office whereby prosecutors published anonymous commentaries in the city's main newspaper about pending cases.
Related News Coverage
Hartford Courant, Connecticut Should Ban High-Capacity Magazines Now, Bernie Sullivan, Dec. 24, 2012. Having spent 27 years in law enforcement, I find the reaction to the slaughter of innocents in Newtown is unfortunately all too familiar. There is the immediate and immeasurable grief of the families, friends and the rest of us, followed by an effort to understand how such evil can exist and how we can better protect our children. There is talk of improved gun control, better access to mental health assistance, improved school security, review of violent videos and films. All of the above certainly may be helpful. My fear is as time goes on and the attention lessens, no meaningful change will occur. These measures can get watered down or talked onto the shelf.
Hartford Courant, Editorial: Ban Assault Weapons, Then We'll Talk; Dec. 17, 2012. Let's not squander the opportunity to make the country safer. We don't need another study. We need to pass some common-sense laws, starting with a ban on military-style assault weapons. After the horrid murder of 27 children and adults in Newtown on Friday, Democratic lawmakers and independent Sen. Joe Lieberman called Sunday for the assault weapons ban and a national commission to study mass shootings. The danger of creating such a commission is that some lawmakers likely will use it to delay legislative action, saying the country must wait for its findings.
Mother Jones, A Guide to Mass Shootings in America; There have been at least 62 in the last 30 years—and most of the killers got their guns legally, Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan, Dec. 15, 2012. On December 14, a mass shooter killed 27 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Among the fatalities were 20 children, six adults, and the shooter, who also killed his mother at her home. More details here. This guide and map have been updated with data from the Newtown massacre. It's perhaps too easy to forget how many times this has happened. The horrific mass murder at a movie theater in Colorado on July 20, another at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on August 5, another at a manufacturer in Minneapolis on September 27—and now the unthinkable nightmare at a Connecticut elementary school on December 14—are the latest in an epidemic of such gun violence over the last three decades. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. We've mapped them below, including details on the shooters' identities, the types of weapons they used, and the number of victims they injured and killed.
Washington Post, President calls for proposals on guns, Scott Wilson and Philip Rucker, Dec. 17, 2012. In wake of the Connecticut rampage, President Obama directed the Cabinet to formulate changes that could include reinstating a ban on assault rifles.
Washington Post, ATF, charged with regulating guns, lacks resources and leadership, Sari Horwitz, Dec. 18, 2012. Amid an intense debate over gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Connecticut, the federal agency at the heart of firearms regulation in America is so beleaguered and under-resourced that it has not had a confirmed director in six years. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a division of the Justice Department, is supposed to regulate the nation’s gun industry. But many within ATF say it is the industry that dominates the agency.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
WWL AM & FM, Jan & Jim Mann leave U.S. Attorney's Office, Jay Vise, Dec. 17, 2012. Two more veteran federal prosecutors are without a job following charges of inappropriate conduct in former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office. A Justice Department official today said Jan and Jim Mann are both resigning their positions with the U.S. Attorney's Offce as the investigation into "Blog Gate" continues. Jan Mann has so far not publicly admitted to anonymously blogging online about open cases. However, a federal judge wrote in a recent court order that former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten told the judge that Mann admitted to blogging under the online handle "eweman." Her husband Jim is also a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans. He has so far not been implicated in the scandal that earlier forced the resignation of long-time federal prosecutor Sal Perricone.
New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aaron Broussard slams Jim Letten's office, seeks inquiry into 'prosecutorial misconduct,' Drew Broach, Dec. 17, 2012. Aaron Broussard asked a federal judge Monday to disqualify the U.S. attorney's office from prosecuting him, citing leaks to the news media, disparaging online comments by prosecutors, a cover-up by the office's No. 2 executive and "an obvious, deliberate and years-long conspiracy to scheme ... by all means possible to destroy the public image" of the former Jefferson Parish president. Broussard's request came 12 weeks after he pleaded guilty to political corruption charges and two weeks after the presiding judge disclosed the cover-up. The motion from defense attorney Robert Jenkins does not try to withdraw Broussard's guilty plea. Instead, it asks Judge Hayden Head Jr. to recuse the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans from his case and to investigate virtually the entire history of the prosecution, steps that presumably could undermine the government's efforts to send Broussard to prison. (Read the motion, 1.5 MB.)
Associated Press, Hollywood hacker sentenced to 10 years in prison, Anthony McCartney, Dec. 17, 2012. A federal judge sentenced a hacker to 10 years in prison on Monday after he broke into the personal online accounts of Scarlett Johansson, Christina Aguilera and other women and posted revealing photos and other material on the Internet.U.S. District Judge S. James Otero sentenced Christopher Chaney after hearing from a tearful Johansson in a videotaped statement.
BuzzFeed, News Outlets Send Letter To Romney Campaign Contesting Expenses, McKay Coppins, Dec. 17, 2012, In an ongoing dispute, editors have informed American Express that they are contesting charges from the campaign trail. Nine news outlets that covered the election sent a joint letter Monday to former Romney campaign officials to contest expenses billed to their reporters. BuzzFeed, which is among the outlets that signed the letter, first reported on the dispute last week. The outlets are requesting that the campaign provide a specific price breakdown for every event that cost them $200 or more. Until then, the letter reads, "some of our organizations have alerted American Express that we are contesting these charges." The letter was sent to former campaign manager Matt Rhoades, and senior advisers Kevin Madden, Stuart Stevens, Beth Myers, Eric Fehrnstrom, and Russ Schriefer, among others. Here's the letter:
We’ve dealt with numerous campaigns over the past decades and understand that we pay a premium to travel with a candidate. But recent invoices from your campaign have raised serious questions about the charges you have forwarded to us for travel with Mitt Romney. We are not quibbling over charter flights or hotel bills. We are focused on what appear to be exorbitant charges for food, filing centers/holds and ground transportation. Some examples: $745 per person charged for a vice presidential debate viewing party on Oct. 11; $812 charged for a meal and a hold on Oct. 18; $461 for a meal and hold the next day; $345 for food and hold Oct. 30.
Huffington Post, An All-American Nightmare, Peter Van Buren, left, Dec. 18, 2012. A widely praised new movie about the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty, opens with a series of torture scenes. The movie scenes are brutal, yet sanitized. The president, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has made it clear that no further investigations or inquiries will be made into America’s decade of torture. His Justice Department failed to prosecute a single torturer or any of those who helped cover up evidence of the torture practices. But it did deliver a jail sentence to one ex-CIA officer who refused to be trained to torture and was among the first at the CIA to publicly admit that the torture program was real. At what passes for trials at our prison camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, disclosure of the details of torture is forbidden, effectively preventing anyone from learning anything about what the CIA did with its victims. We are encouraged to do what’s best for America and, as Barack Obama put it, “look forward, not backward,” with the same zeal as, after 9/11, we were encouraged to save America by going shopping. Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. As an act, it is all about pain, but even more about degradation and humiliation. It destroys its victims, but also demeans those who perpetrate it. I know, because in the course of my 24 years as a State Department officer, I spoke with two men who had been tortured, both by allies of the United States and with at least the tacit approval of Washington. While these men were tortured, Americans in a position to know chose to look the other way for reasons of politics. These men were not movie characters, but complex flesh-and-blood human beings. Meet just one of them once and, I assure you, you’ll never follow the president’s guidance and move forward trying to forget.
Huffington Post, Justice: Washington, D.C.-style, Joe Sestek, Dec. 18, 2012. On Veteran's Day this year, I visited those who had served this nation but are now serving time in Pennsylvania's Graterford Penitentiary. Former "shipmates" of mine, almost half are there for a drug-related crime. I watched with respect as each of the too-numerous incarcerated veterans was called up by name while several inmates softly hummed the Battle Hymn of the Republic.....There is another group I thought might be joining my fellow veterans in prison today because they were involved in the same kinds of drug crimes that imprisoned so many veterans, including either moving drug money or laundering it -- those at HSBC bank. However, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer told us why our government would not prosecute this special group: If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy? In deciding not to prosecute HSBC bank -- with $2.5 trillion in assets and $38 billion in profits the last two years -- for laundering hundreds of millions in drug profits and moving hundreds of millions more to illegally help Iran and other terrorist financiers, Breuer said the Justice Department considered "the collateral consequences." How then does our government weigh justice for the warrior fighting terrorism compared to justice for the bank officials abetting terrorism? Or determine fairness for the veteran carrying thousands in drug money with the bank executives' laundering of $1.5 billion as accomplices of drug and terror cartels?
Boston Globe, Cahill, the lottery, and the demands of democracy, Harvey Silverglate, Dec. 15, 2012. Timothy Cahill avoided the axe when a jury was unable to agree on Attorney General Martha Coakley’s charge that the now-former state treasurer engaged in corruption when he used state lottery advertising dollars for his own political ends. While the promotional ads did not mention Cahill’s name, in reality they were meant to promote his quixotic and foundering gubernatorial campaign. So went Coakley’s theory. Cahill’s critics (and Coakley’s supporters) admit, as the Globe put it in a recent editorial (“Cahill gets a mistrial, but tough law still warranted,” Dec. 13th), that “it’s certainly true that the line between self-promotion and the outright diversion of resources can be hard to find in politics.” Yet they conclude that because Cahill spent $1.5 million of lottery promotional funds to tout his own management of the lottery while he was a candidate for higher office, he crossed that hard-to-find line. Taking a step back, however, there’s the other side of the story: Democracy surely demands (not just allows) that government officials inform the public of how they have fulfilled their official duties. When the Republican Governor’s Association attacked Cahill’s management of the lottery and hence the lottery itself, the treasurer had not only a right, but a duty to defend the lottery and his own performance. For one thing, public confidence in the lottery is essential for its success. For another, Cahill owed it to the voting public to make the case that he was doing a good job managing it, particularly since he was standing for reelection to an even higher state office.
FiredogLake, HSBC Bankers Get No Jail Time for Terrorist Financing While Somali Sentenced for Charity, Kevin Gosztola, Dec.16, 2012. This past week, the Justice Department announced that HSBC Bank had agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion and “enter a deferred prosecution agreement” for engaging in money laundering that involved the financing of drug cartels and groups with ties to terrorism. The agreement indicated there would be no criminal prosecution. Not one bank executive or lower-level banker would be put on trial and possibly sentenced to jail for his or her role in allowing money to be transferred to drug cartels or terrorists. Meanwhile, that same day, Nima Ali Yusuf, 26, a Somali woman who fled war-torn Somalia when she was a child, was sentenced to eight years in prison for sending $1,450 to “members of a terrorist organization in her native country.” The scale of the crime committed by Yusuf, who pled guilty to charges just over a year ago in December 2011, is incredibly minor and insignificant when compared to the acts engaged in by bank executives at HSBC.
Legal Schnauzer, Employee Suicide At Federal Courthouse Rekindles Memories Of My Days As A "Security Risk," Roger Shuler, Dec. 13, 2012. For about an eight-month period beginning in May 2010, security personnel tailed me every time I visited the Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. If I went to the clerk's office, a security officer would take up residence right outside the door or a little ways down the hallway. If I went to the restroom, an officer suddenly had to relieve himself, too.
Memories of that period came flooding back yesterday when news broke that a courthouse employee had shot and killed himself in the clerk's office.
Nextgov, DHS agrees to outside study on cancer risks of airport body scanners, Aliya Sternstein, December 14, 2012. http://www.nextgov.com/defense/2012/12/dhs-agrees-outside-study-cancer-risks-airport-body-scanners/60195/?oref=nextgov_today_nl The Transportation Security Administration has tapped the National Academy of Sciences to probe the health risks of body scans to passengers and pilots after years of pressure from civil liberties groups and Congress. The study is limited to radiation and safety testing, and will not examine the privacy implications of the X-ray machines, according to a new contracting notice.