The role of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives may be at issue int he current Washington talks on gun violence, says NPR. Advocates and former ATF officials say the agency has been underfunded, understaffed, and handcuffed in its abilities to go after gun crimes. "The restrictions on ATF are absurd," says Jon Lowy of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "They're not allowed to use computers in doing their trace work. They're not allowed to do more than one spot inspection on a gun dealer."
The acting director is B. Todd Jones, who is juggling the ATF post with his other job, that of U.S. attorney in Minneapolis. There hasn't been a permanent ATF director for six years, since back in the Bush administration. Michael Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director, says that lack of leadership has handicapped the agency. Funding has been relatively flat, and the agency has roughly the same number of agents today as it did a decade ago. Congress refuses to allow a centralized gun database, so tracing a weapon used in a crime means a lot of legwork, says former ATF agent William Vizzard. Another frustration, says Bouchard, is the lack of gun-trafficking statutes to charge those suspected of supplying guns to criminals.