Last month, President Obama unveiled a number of actions his administration will take to help curb the increasing number of gun violence incidents in the United States. Included in those actions are new guidelines to strengthen background checks, provide increased access to mental health care, explore gun safety technology and implement more aggressive enforcement of current laws.
One of the agencies tasked with helping to enforce those laws is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). As a bureau within the Department of Justice, the ATF plays a key role in stopping the illegal use and trafficking of firearms. This is an issue that doesn’t just impact people in the United States but also individuals around the world; for example, 70 percent of the more than 104,850 guns seized by Mexican authorities from 2009-2014 can be traced back to the United States.
The President’s new gun measures call for increasing funding to hire ATF agents and investigators, which will help improve the effectiveness of the agency. But it’s important to note that the ATF doesn’t have a director in place to oversee the implementation of these measures.
The agency has lacked permanent leadership, since B. Todd Jones resigned as director in March 2015. Currently, the ATF is being led by Deputy Director Thomas E. Brandon, who held the title of interim director last year. With more than 88 people killed every day in the United States, and the hundreds of thousands of lives permanently and irrevocably altered due to firearms, there is a crucial need for permanent leadership at the ATF to ensure the President’s measures are fully implemented.
As a party to two international human rights treaties – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), the U.S. government has a clear and urgent obligation to protect the people living in this country from gun violence. Installing a new director will take a joint effort by the President and members of Congress, both of whom have a responsibility to find solutions that comply with international human rights obligations and, in so doing, save lives.
The United States government will be in breach of its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to life and security of person if it doesn’t comprehensively address the escalating gun violence across the country. We need President Obama to nominate a director for the ATF, which is crucially needed in the efforts to prevent gun violence.