Federal Bill HR 121: Is More ATF Agents Really a Bad Thing?

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Last Updated on July 31, 2021.

More ATF agents? What could go wrong? Let’s withhold judgement on this question for a minute, because maybe nothing could go wrong. Maybe.

The main issues with Federal Bill HR 121 actually stem from the justification for more ATF agents.

These are the numbers that the bill cites:

There are problems with some of these numbers.


Most Gun Deaths Are Suicides

First, a large majority of the 32,000 deaths cited in the first point are suicides. There’s an argument to me made that some of these suicides would have been unsuccessful or avoided, absent access to a firearm.

However, the root issue there is suicide. ATF agents have no major involvement in suicide prevention.

Also—short of outright banning guns—it would be incredibly difficult to stop someone from getting a gun with the intention of committing suicide, if they have no previous record of violence or other crime.

New gun laws are unlikely to address the problem they’re citing, unless those gun laws are incredibly restrictive.

Supporting incredibly restrictive gun laws may be the intention behind this bill. However, the simplest explanation about using the total number of gun deaths is to make the problem seem as bad as possible, to garner support for the bill.

The Law Enforcement Statistic Seems Incorrect

In 2020, 50 law enforcement officers were killed by gunfire.

There may have been years where this number topped 100. But it seems unlikely that “hundreds of police officers” were ever killed by gunfire in the line of duty. 2020 wasn’t great for anyone. The idea that the number of police officers killed with guns would regularly be DOUBLE the number killed in 2020 appears to be unreasonable.

Is the number intentionally inflated in the text of the bill? Hard to say. But it doesn’t matter. This number is at least incorrect, according to the most recent year. It might be incorrect regardless of which year you look at.

Either way, incorrect data is poor justification for hiring more ATF agents.

It’s Tough To Stop Guns From Being Sold Without Background Checks

New guns from a manufacturer have to be shipped to an FFL (Federal Firearms License) holder or sold from the factory. And the manufacturer has an FFL.

Any gun sold by a merchant with an FFL must be accompanied by a background check. So any newly manufactured gun that enters the market is screened with a background check.

The 40 percent of guns that get sold without a background check are person to person sales. Should people sell guns to other people without getting a background check on the purchaser? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s a separate discussion.

The main point here is that it would require massive violation of your constitutional rights to prevent those person to person sales. To stop two people from exchanging money for personal property, law enforcement would need unrestricted access to people’s homes, businesses, garages, and anywhere else where people might swap stuff.

I’ll let you decide which constitutional rights that would violate. But it’s more than zero rights.

And, even with an additional 200 ATF agents, it’s unlikely that the ATF will be able to curb these personal sales.

This statistic isn’t entirely unrelated to the bill. But the solution proposed in this legislation seems unlikely to resolve this issue.


So… What Could Go Wrong?

The ATF is not a suicide prevention line. And, without some rather significant changes to other laws, additional ATF agents will do little to curb private gun sales.

Setting the incorrect data aside, this legislation presents a poor way to address the issues it brings up.

...Unless the intention of hiring new ATF agents is to support a gun ban, gun confiscation, or willful violation of constitutional rights. Whether or not that’s the goal is another separate conversation.

But violation of constitutional rights is one thing that could go wrong.

The other thing that could go wrong is people being killed in the enforcement of gun laws. The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 generated some incidents that suggest enforcing new gun laws could lead to more state violence against American citizens.

No matter what you think of the Branch Davidians at Waco or Randy Weaver, both of those incidents were sparked by violations of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. It’s unlikely that the outcomes would have been the same without the national gun control laws.

Of course, these things could go wrong anyway. But adding more federal agents would just make those things go more wrong, if they go wrong.

If you have any strong thoughts about this legislation, let the Firearms Policy Coalition help you send an email to your representatives.

If you want to know which state are the most gun friendly, refer to this page.