The much-maligned Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is again coming under fire from Republicans and gun rights groups, who are pushing to rein in the agency’s power — or abolish it altogether.
The recent attacks follow the ATF’s proposal to prohibit a popular type of armor-piercing ammunition that critics say is a backhanded attempt to render useless AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.
It’s a blatant “power grab” that runs counter to the spirit of the Second Amendment, said Michael Hammond, legislative counsel at Gun Owners of America.
“They’re going to take out the gun by taking out the ammunition,” Hammond told The Hill. “If you have a gun that has no bullets in it, you can use it as a door stop or hit people over the head with it, but it’s basically no longer a gun."
But the flap is just the latest in a long line of grievances lawmakers have against the ATF, whose infamously botched Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation cemented it as a perennial target.
And it has renewed tensions between the ATF and Republicans, some of whom are looking to turn the lights out on the agency that they say has become too powerful.
Rep. Jim SensenbrennerJames SensenbrennerGOP rep: Funds from Mexican cartels can pay for border wall GOP rep: Trump or Mike Pence will be president for next 4 years Wyden, Sensenbrenner lead February town halls MORE (R-Wis.) this week reintroduced legislation that would abolish the ATF, arguing that the agency has become embroiled in too many controversies.
Many of the ATF’s responsibilities would be transferred to the FBI under the legislation.
“The ATF is a scandal-ridden, largely duplicative agency that lacks a clear mission,” Sensenbrenner said. “Its ‘Framework’ is an affront to the Second Amendment and yet another reason why Congress should pass the ATF Elimination Act."
The GOP's resentment for the ATF runs deep.
Republicans have been very critical of Fast and Furious, which ended up with weapons falling into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Disdain for the ATF led the GOP to, for years, block the White House from placing a permanent director atop the agency, until B. Todd Jones was confirmed in July 2013.
The ATF’s bullet ban is the latest issue rubbing Republicans wrong.
Second Amendment advocates in Congress are rallying against it. House Judiciary Chairman Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteWeek ahead: Senate takes aim at Obama-era 'blacklisting' rule House panel blocks Dem effort on Trump's potential business conflicts House panel to hold hearing on foreign surveillance law MORE (R-Va.) and more than 200 other lawmakers wrote to Jones this week demanding he “abandon” the proposal.
“Under no circumstances should ATF adopt a standard that will ban ammunition that is overwhelmingly used by law-abiding Americans for legitimate purposes,” the lawmakers wrote.
Meanwhile, the Protecting Second Amendment Rights Act introduced last week by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) would roll back the ATF’s power to regulate ammunition.
"We cannot and we will not stand by while the Obama administration tramples on the Constitution, the rule of law, and the Second Amendment rights of hunters,” Rooney said.
Under the ATF’s proposed rules, gun companies would be prohibited from manufacturing and selling 5.56mm projectiles for M855 cartridges that are commonly used in AR-15 rifles.
After Congress failed to pass legislation banning semi-automatic weapons, critics say this is an attempt by the Obama administration to do so unilaterally.
Should the ATF go through with the bullet ban, critics fear it would open the floodgates to all sorts of ammunition bans, with far-reaching implications for gun owners.
“They’re setting a precedent that they can ban any ammunition they want,” Hammond explained.
But the ATF defends the proposed bullet ban, because it says it would protect law enforcement officers from harm's way.
These types of bullets have traditionally been used by hunters and sportsmen in AR-15 rifles, but they can now be used in certain handguns, giving criminals easier access to these potentially deadly weapons, an ATF representative confirmed.
Gun groups suggest the ban infringes on the Second Amendment rights of hunters, but the ATF representative confirmed there are 168 other types of bullets that would still be allowed for use in AR-15 rifles.
“No final determinations have been made and we won’t make any determinations until we’ve reviewed the comments submitted by industry, law enforcement and the public at large,” an ATF representative told The Hill last week.
— This report was updated at 4:06 p.m.