As law enforcement struggles with how to handle the proliferation of mass shootings in the U.S., the agency tasked with enforcing gun laws is underfunded and without a permanent leader.
The ATF is expected to lose 300 agents to retirement in 2018 and 2019, and the agency isn’t hiring enough replacements.
The agency has no permanent leader, and its budget continues to be cut.
Kenneth E. Nelson, former acting ATF director, said the agency is being handled like “political football.”
“If they are really concerned, Congress would give ATF the resources to prevent and respond to mass shootings, but ATF is a political football,” Nelson told The Washington Times .
Since 2001, the number of gun deaths have risen 34%, but the number of federal agents – about 2,600 – has not increased.
“The growth of violent gun crime is an external challenge that has strained ATF’s ability to respond to requests for assistance to address the needs of the nation’s cities and citizens most affected by this violence,” ATF wrote, adding that “requests for services and support continue to exceed our ability to respond.”
In 2018, the ATF hired 156 agents but lost 172 to retirement. With about 17% of agents aged 50 or older, the agency is expected to lose a lot more staff.
President Trump has even discussed transferring the ATF’s responsibilities to the Treasury Department.
David Chipman, a former ATF agent, said the gun lobby is to blame.
“We all agree gun violence is a significant public safety threat, so why is the ATF the size that it is?” he said. “That is largely because the gun lobby has been concerned about an effective and aggressive ATF, and their influence over legislators has kept the ATF ineffectual, at least budgetwise.”