Omission Watch: Obama Nominated Chicago Agent for ATF Chief, Drawing Opposition from NRA

Cam Edwards of NRANews.com reported on Friday night that there's a really under-reported story out there. President Obama nominated a new head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives -- a local ATF agent from Chicago that's drawing serious opposition from gun-rights groups. Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor is one of the few news reporters to notice:

ATF special agent Andrew Traver, who last year let a TV reporter fire an AK-47 from her hip to demonstrate the weapon's lethality, is set to become America's chief firearms inspector. But Mr. Traver, currently the Chicago ATF chief, faces a tough nomination battle as gun-rights groups amass their forces in opposition.

The nomination of the Naperville, Ill., native to be top gun cop is applauded by gun-control activists, who say the 5,000-employee ATF has lost ground in its regulation of the $28 billion US firearms business, having labored under interim directors since 2006.

But the idea of an ATF director who hails from Chicago, a city without gun shops, and who has conflated black market automatic weapons with legal semi-automatic "assault-style" rifles is causing Second Amendment defenders to worry that President Obama intends to blast away at gun rights by force of bureaucracy, if not law.

"This is a demonstration that Obama has ... the same attitudes about Second Amendment rights now as he did [when he was an Illinois state senator], which is quite hostile," says Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Golden, Colo., that promotes free-market ideas. "He's picked a strong anti-Second Amendment person for an administrative job that has far more influence over the practical exercise of Second Amendment rights than any other job in the country."

Gun control has barely registered as an issue under Obama, except for reporters to complain that there was a rush on gun purchases after Obama's election. National newspapers have found the NRA particularly newsworthy in their moves that were independent of the GOP -- supporting gun-rights Democrat incumbents in House races, and supporting the Democrat-penned "campaign reform" called the Disclose Act. Will they notice now that the NRA is going to push back at Team Obama?

The National Rifle Association and gun rights bloggers panned Traver's Nov. 17 nomination, saying his role as an adviser to an antigun-violence conference attended by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley proves that he's an "antigun zealot." Traver is also involved in the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which lobbies for tougher firearms laws to decrease urban gun violence.

The big question now is whether the Senate will hold confirmation hearings or whether Obama makes Traver a recess appointment after Congress adjourns, meaning Traver would take office but would face a later Senate confirmation.

But even if the Senate were to vote Traver down, the White House doesn't necessarily lose, says Mr. Kopel at the Independence Institute. Traver's nomination by itself is a "way to improve [Obama's] standing" among campaign donors who strongly favor gun control, he says.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis