How the A.T.F., Key to Biden’s Gun Plan, Became an N.R.A. ‘Whipping Boy’

How the A.T.F., Key to Biden’s Gun Plan, Became an N.R.A. ‘Whipping Boy’

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — If there was one moment that summed up the current state of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it was when the floor at the agency’s gun-tracing center caved in a couple of years ago under the weight of paper. The accident was not entirely accidental. The gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, has for years systematically blocked plans to modernize the agency’s paper-based weapons-tracing system with a searchable database. As a result, records of gun sales going back decades are stored in boxes stacked seven high, waiting to be processed, against every wall. “We had a lady pushing a cart, and the floor just gave way,” recalled Tyson J. Arnold, who runs the tracing center, tapping the new, steel-braced deck with his shoe. Now the long-suffering A.T.F. (somehow the “explosives” never made it into the abbreviation) is at the center of President Biden’s plans to push back at what he has called “the international embarrassment” of gun violence in America. As he laid out his expansive vision for the nation on Wednesday night, Mr. Biden once again called on Congress to expand background checks and ban assault weapons. But given the abiding power of the gun lobby, his immediate hopes lie in a more limited list of executive actions that will ultimately rely on the effectiveness of the A.T.F., the federal agency tasked with enforcing the country’s gun laws and executive actions. The National Firearms Collection, a library of guns mainatined […]

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