In early 2012, Milwaukee, Wisconsin resident Chauncey Wright—a man suffering from brain damage, mental disabilities and with half that of a normal IQ level—saw some men handing out flyers in a Walmart store parking lot. Wright approached the men and asked them for a job. They employed him to promote their out-of-the-way clothing shop by riding his bike around town distributing fliers. In the past, Wright had found it difficult to keep a job—along with his disabilities, he has a criminal record, including a felony. Determined, Wright was devoted to the shop and for a little over six months, did what his employee asked him to do—including buy guns and drugs for them. The owners of Fearless Distributing paid Wright in cigarettes, product and a little cash for his work. Without warning, after six months of employing Wright, Fearless Distributing closed abruptly. Shortly after the shop closed, Wright was arrested and charged with seven drug and gun offenses.
It sounds like a front for a criminal gang, taking advantage of a mentally impaired man to be the middleman for illegal gun and drug deals. However, in fact, it was an undercover sting operation operated by the ATF, called Operation Fearless.
The last few years have been rough for the regulatory and law enforcement agency responsible for the illegal use, transfer and sale of firearms. Besides the botched Milwaukee sting and Operation Fast and Furious, the agency went seven years without a permanent director. In fact, in 2013 a group that studied the ATF’s effectiveness and efficiency wrote that the “ATF lacks a clear mission and sense of purpose…” Now, a Congressman from Wisconsin is currently working on a bill that would eliminate the agency. U.S. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) says eliminating the ATF and having other departments, like the FBI, take on its responsibilities would save taxpayers money and make the government more efficient.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) says he will support the bill, calling the ATF “unaccountable,” a “debacle” and an “embarrassment.” Other supporters include the Center for American Progress, whose members called out for an elimination of the ATF right after the shootings at Sandyhook. A spokesperson for the organization stated that giving the ATF’s responsibilities over to the FBI made sense, because the FBI is not as susceptible to politics as the ATF has been.
There is no copy of the bill yet, but Sensenbrenner says” By absorbing the ATF into existing law enforcement entities, we can preserve the areas where the ATF adds value for substantially less taxpayer money. While searching for its mission, the ATF has been plagued by decades of high-profile blunders….We cannot afford to ignore clear changes that will greatly enhance the government’s efficiency.” The elimination of the ATF has been suggested by lawmakers quite a few times in the past—most notably once during the Reagan and then again during the Clinton administrations.
So far, the NRA has made no official statement on the supposed bill, but the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign oppose the bill.