Political Report: The Wrong Choice For The Job

Posted on March 17, 2011

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What would you say about a presidential nominee to head an agency that regulates the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right--but who has aligned himself with those who push the most extreme restrictions on that right” And what would you say if the same nominee had participated in a shoddy media stunt that promoted one of the biggest lies pushed by opponents of that right for the past 20 years?

I think you’d say that person should not hold office. And that’s exactly what NRA is saying about Andrew Traver, nominated by President Obama to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The post has been subject to Senate confirmation since 2006, but senators concerned about internal abuses at the agency, as well as its targeting of firearms dealers for license revocation proceedings, have refused to let any nominee move forward. Based on his track record so far, Traver should not be the one to change that pattern.

In 2007, Traver, the special agent in charge of BATFE’s Chicago Field Division, was listed as both a “participant” and an “advisor” for the International Association of Chiefs of Police “Great Lakes Summit on Gun Violence.” Other participants and advisors were a “Who’s Who” of anti-gun lobbyists, lawyers, “public health” academics and government officials. The summit was funded to the tune of $500,000 by the anti-gun Joyce Foundation, on whose board of directors President Obama once served.

Tellingly, the “report contributors” included two senior staffers from the most radical anti-gun group in this country, the Violence Policy Center. One of them was Tom Diaz, who wrote on his blog the following year that gun company employees “truly are evil, minions of the Satan,” and described one respected manufacturer’s catalog as “a Niagara of firepower to fit the murderous whims of gun nuts and crackpots--hmm ╔ is that a redundancy?”

It was no surprise that the “summit” recommended a long list of anti-gun initiatives, including not only the usual anti-gun agenda items (bans on common semi-automatics and .50-cal. rifles, as well as regulations to drive gun shows out of business) but even more extreme measures such as “federal health and safety oversight of the firearms industry.” When a report written by VPC staff members calls for that, it’s calling for federal “consumer product” regulation of guns, including “pre-market approval power” and the power to order recalls of guns that “present an unreasonable risk of injury and death.” VPC has long said that all handguns would fall in that category. (For more on the IACP/Joyce/VPC report, see “Follow the Money,” December 2007.)

As if being hip-deep in projects like this wasn’t enough, Traver was an active participant in one of the anti-gun groups” biggest media-assisted lies. In 1988, VPC’s Josh Sugarmann (then working for the group’s predecessor, “New Right Watch”) argued that public confusion between machine guns and semi-automatics “can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on [semi-automatics].” Since then, TV networks have often run footage of fully automatic firearms during reports on the “assault weapon” issue.

But in a crowded field of contenders, one piece takes the prize. A November 2009 NBC Chicago report claimed the city was seeing an “alarming” increase in “assault weapons ╔ on city streets.” In the video, Traver described semi-automatics as if they were machine guns: “Pull the trigger and you can mow people down.”

Traver and his agents provided the reporter with a fully automatic AK-47, which she fired wildly from the hip. Traver then said that stray bullets (like the ones the out-of-control reporter had turned loose) are “one of the main problems with having stuff like this available to the gangs.” As Traver surely knows, fully automatic firearms are not “available” in normal retail channels. (NRA’s effort to point out the truth about these issues was too much for the Brady Campaign’s Paul Helmke, who called us the “National Rogue Association: going to the mat for mass killers.”)

When Traver’s nomination was announced in November, we quickly called on President Obama to withdraw the nomination. We also warned that Traver should not be given a so-called “recess appointment,” which would allow him to serve for as long as two years without the consent of the American people through their duly elected senators.

As this article goes to press, we don’t know what will become of Traver’s nomination. We hope President Obama will withdraw Traver’s name and nominate someone without a record of anti-gun activities, who can provide real leadership at the troubled agency.

Yet clearly, the problems with BATFE are larger than any one person. Noting various BATFE personnel scandals, former U.S. Rep. Jim Lightfoot, R-Iowa, recently wrote an open letter to House freshmen urging them to give the “Mr. Clean treatment” to BATFE “abuse and waste.” With senior federal lawmakers expected to introduce major BATFE reform legislation early in the new Congress, this may finally be the year the agency gets some of the change it sorely needs.

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