Rep. Matt Gaetz on Wednesday renewed his call for the ATF to be abolished after being underwhelmed by answers from its leader.
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Director Steven Dettelbach testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
During his time to question Dettelbach, Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, asked the director how many firearms the agency has “lost.”
Gaetz referred to a report in 2022 by the agency’s inspector general. The report noted that “thousands” of guns, gun parts, and ammunition had been stolen from an ATF facility.
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Dettelbach replied that the theft was committed by a non-ATF employee who was now in prison for the crime.
Yet Gaetz noted that the agency was still not following the IG’s recommendations to protect its assets and avoid becoming the “mark.”
“That shows an ATF that is not functioning correctly and is not responding to the problems you create,” said Gaetz.
ATF agents are “getting robbed on one hand, so you can’t keep ahold of the guns you’re supposed to have, but then you do keep ahold of a bunch of stuff you’re not supposed to have,” Gaetz told Dettelbach.
He was referring to roughly 250,000 records of gun owners that had to be deleted because the ATF kept them in violation of federal law.
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“That’s what you guys do: You keep what you shouldn’t keep and lose what you’re not supposed to lose,” Gaetz said.
Gaetz then shared a letter he got from a constituent who had fallen victim to the agency’s “zero tolerance” policy on gun law compliance.
In this case, the dealer had been federally approved for 46 years but then had his license revoked and lost his business because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement erred during a gun purchase background check.
ATF claimed the dealer made a “willful error” in noting the FDLE background check was good to go.
“Why should you be able to destroy the life of one of my constituents over a technicality, where they weren’t even at fault, when you all lose thousands of guns and illegally keep hundreds of thousands of records?” said Gaetz.
Dettlebach tried to defend the agency by saying a “small minority” of gun dealers are stripped of their licenses after due process. Gun sellers, he added, are the agency’s “first line of defense.”
Gaetz mocked him for that, noting not only the stolen weapons, but also an apparent news report that said the ATF’s rate of revocations on gun sellers were at the highest point in 16 years.
“The definition of hypocrisy,” said Gaetz, “is when you can’t live up to your own standard. … You wouldn’t be able to meet your own zero-tolerance policy because you lose stuff you’re supposed to keep and keep stuff it’s illegal to keep.”
“This,” he added of the constituent’s case, “is a terrible abuse of power.”
After the hearing, Gaetz said on Twitter, “The ATF has a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for gun store owners, yet the ATF has lost thousands of guns and illegally kept hundreds of thousands of firearm-purchase records. Their ‘zero-tolerance’ policy has destroyed the life and career of a constituent of mine in Florida over a paperwork technicality that wasn’t his fault.”
“The ATF should be DEFUNDED and Congress should cut Director Dettelbach’s salary to $0. #AbolishTheATF.”
As The Free Press reported last month, Gaetz argued for slashing the salaries of the ATF’s top bureaucrats who he said illegally collected gun-sales records of law-abiding Americans and turned gun owners who use arm braces for pistols into criminals.
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