Pro-Gun Groups Urge Senate to Reject Sullivan as BATFE Head

July 7, 2008 - 8:23 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Two Second Amendment organizations are calling on the Senate to reject the nomination of Michael Sullivan as permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) because the agency "has gone berserk" while the "anti-gun cop from Massachusetts" has been its acting head. Michael Sullivan

Noting that Sullivan was named acting BATFE director by President Bush in August 2006, Mark Taff, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), said in a recent news release that the group has given him "plenty of time to demonstrate reasonable, even-handed and responsible leadership."

Nevertheless, "we find his performance to date wanting," Taff said.

Earlier in the week, Gun Owners of America (GOA) used a news release of their own to express dissatisfaction with Sullivan's leadership in stronger terms: "Americans don't need an anti-gun cop from Massachusetts as the director of the federal gun police."

The GOA statement quoted Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), who praised Sullivan during his Sept. 26 confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee by saying, "We'll miss him in Massachusetts, but he'll be a strong leader at ATF, and I look forward to working with him on key issues of gun control."

"The above quote highlights all you need to know" about Sullivan, the group said, referring to Sullivan as a "Kennedy-style liberal."

"While we have admired Mr. Sullivan's no-nonsense opposition to attempts by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others to gain sweeping access to sensitive BATFE firearms trace data," Taff noted, "we are alarmed at what appear to be significant abuses of authority by BATFE agents under his command."

"While these abuses were not started by Sullivan, he has not taken any action to stop them. In fact, he has publicly defended these abuses," Taff said.

Both the CCRKBA and the GOA pointed to a statement made by the House Justice and Commerce Committee earlier this year while discussing the agency's "discretionary budget" of $53.5 billion for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008.

"The committee has heard reports that ATF has pursued license revocations and denials against firearms dealers based on violations that consist largely of recordkeeping errors of various types that are unlikely to impede tracing investigations or prosecution of individuals who use firearms in crime," the House members said.

"The committee encourages ATF to consider lesser gradation of sanctions for recordkeeping errors," it noted.

The bureau "holds a continuing animus against gun owners and dealers," GOA stated. "Inspectors have no handbook under which to operate, and the absence of such written procedures allows them to be arbitrary and capricious."

As an example, the group referred to a family gun business that had been in operation for years in Baltimore, Md., but was shut down because of the "wanton, repeated crime" of abbreviating Baltimore as "Blto" in the "teeny, tiny spaces" on government forms.

"Now, the agency has turned its collective guns on Red's Trading Post in Twin Falls, Idaho, among others," GOA said.

"Even though one ATF agent told the manager that Red's was 'one of the best small gun shops' he'd ever seen, the ATF has continued its assault on this gun shop (which has been in business for decades) for minor clerical mistakes and failing to put up a poster," the group stated.

The only way gun owners can support Sullivan's confirmation, Taff said, is if he clearly and publicly details the steps he will take to stop the abuses at the BATFE and begins to implement said policies immediately.

"Until that happens, we fully support the indefinite hold on his confirmation and encourage President Bush to revisit his decision to nominate Mr. Sullivan," said Taff.

'Thankless job'

When President Bush chose Sullivan to be permanent head of the agency on March 21, he cited the Massachusetts native's experience as a major reason for the nomination.

Not only was Sullivan serving as acting head of the agency, but he was also the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, a post he has held since the week after the Sept. 11 attacks.

One of the most celebrated cases Sullivan has prosecuted was that of so-called "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, the 28-year-old British man who threatened to detonate explosives in his tennis shoes during American Airlines flight 63 on Dec. 22, 2001.

As Cybercast News Service reported at the time, Reid pleaded guilty to eight related criminal counts the following October.

On Friday, Peter Hamm, communications director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that while his organization has not taken a position on Sullivan's leadership at the ATF, he believes that "we ought to salute anyone who's got the right professional background and is willing to head the agency, rather than call him names."

"It's a thankless job," he told Cybercast News Service, because "we're never going to be satisfied with the ATF under his command, and neither will the gun rights crowd."

While agreeing that the agency "is in need of reform," Hamm said that the ATF "doesn't move quickly enough. When it takes 12 years to shut down a reckless gun dealer like Trader Sports in California, whose firearms are quickly linked to crime, we don't think that's the sign of an agency gone mad."

Even though "we don't see Michael Sullivan as some sort of conquering hero for our side," Hamm added that the leaders of GOA and the CCRKBA "should give him a chance - even if he is from Massachusetts!"

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