The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives may be about to get a permanent director after seven years without one, with the Senate expected to vote on the nomination of B. Todd Jones as early as Wednesday. The federal agency's roles include enforcing gun laws, preventing illegal gun trafficking and regulating the gun industry.
The National Rifle Association, which has long lobbied against confirming an ATF chief, confirmed to U.S. News that it would neither support nor fight the nomination. The powerful gun lobby did not share why it chose to back down.
Gun control advocates say they believe the NRA is remaining neutral because it no longer has enough votes in Congress to stop the nomination. "They are not one to back down if they think they can win it," says Lad Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, calling the NRA's reversal "phenomenal news for Americans who care about gun violence."
Everitt is optimistic that a confirmed ATF chief could help solve the agency's long-standing problems of lack of manpower, resources and funding. ATF has tried to stem the disappearance of guns from gun dealers, for example, but hasn't had enough resources to complete the needed inspections. In 2012, the agency was only able to inspect 19 percent of the country's total gun dealers, according to a report from the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress.
Jones, who is the ATF's current acting director, has said he "hit the reset button" when he took over the position in September 2011 after controversy over the agency's anti-gun smuggling operation.
President Barack Obama has urged the Senate to confirm Jones so he can further help the agency, saying "Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job."