NRA has hobbled the ATF and turned America into a firearm bazaar. Can Biden change that?

·4 min read
President Donald Trump at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Indianapolis in 2019.
President Donald Trump at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum in Indianapolis in 2019.

As reports of a crime wave ripple through the news, elected officials who take cues – and campaign cash – from the National Rifle Association have been rushing to pin the blame on others. To hear these lawmakers and their media mouthpieces tell it, the rise in crime can be blamed on any number of their go-to scare tactics, including bail reform, immigration or even suburban rezoning.

But when you look at the data, two things become clear: Gun violence is driving the spike in crime, and much of that violence has been enabled by the NRA’s legislative foot soldiers, who have turned America into a free-for-all firearm bazaar.

You wouldn’t know it from the fearmongering you hear from the far right, but during the pandemic, many types of crime – including drug offenses, burglaries and larcenies – have remained flat, or even declined. But gun crime isn’t just rising, it’s skyrocketing. In 2020, more than 19,400 people were killed in gun homicides, a 26% jump over 2019.

NRA puts profit over public safety

If today’s crime problem is really a gun crime problem, it stands to reason that the key to saving lives is keeping guns away from criminals. But NRA-aligned lawmakers have consistently put gun industry interests ahead of public safety. And that starts with hobbling the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Opinions in your inbox: The best insights and analysis every morning

The NRA has never made a secret of how it feels about the ATF, which is charged with regulating the gun industry. Soon after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the NRA put out a fundraising letter that referred to ATF agents as "jackbooted-government thugs."

Lawmakers aligned with the NRA took note, and then they took steps to hamstring the agency, starting at the very top. For six years now, Republicans have refused to confirm an ATF director. The result? An agency that lacks the leadership it needs to forcefully address the gun violence crisis, which kills more than 100 Americans every day.

On President Donald Trump’s watch, the ATF refused to regulate ghost guns, even as Los Angeles County law enforcement, to cite just one example, reported a 50% increase in ghost gun recoveries.

Or consider gun trafficking. Nearly a third of guns recovered by law enforcement are brought across state lines, most often flowing out of states with weak gun laws and into states with strong laws. The ATF is in charge of stopping trafficking, but it has a fraction of the staff it needs to inspect America’s gun dealers and no federal gun trafficking law to enforce.

Fading clout: What the Boulder shooting means for the future of the NRA

A prime example of the deadly consequences of unchecked trafficking is Chicago, which also happens to be the far-right’s favorite example of liberal leadership gone wrong. But pundits like Sean Hannity conveniently gloss over a key driver of gun crime in the Windy City: weak, NRA-backed gun laws in neighboring states. All told, 60% of the crime guns recovered in Chicago originated outside of Illinois.

Litigators with Everytown for Gun Safety, the organization I lead, recently helped the city bring a lawsuit against one nearby Indiana gun dealer that has been tied to a whopping 850 crime guns recovered in Chicago.

Statistics disprove NRA safety claims

President Joe Biden, for one, is willing to stand up to the NRA. Under his leadership, the Justice Department has proposed a new rule to prohibit the sale of ghost gun kits and parts. He launched a multicity strike force on gun trafficking.

And he nominated David Chipman, a respected ATF veteran and gun owner, to serve as the agency’s director.

Former ATF veteran and gun owner David Chipman testifies on Capitol Hill in 2019.
Former ATF veteran and gun owner David Chipman testifies on Capitol Hill in 2019.

Perhaps the greatest endorsement of Chipman is the fact that the NRA has committed $2 million to block his appointment and push back against Biden’s gun control campaign.

That is a small price for them to pay when you consider how much the gun industry has profited from a diminished ATF. In just one example, Smith & Wesson reported a record $1.1 billion in sales in the prior fiscal year.

If you subscribe to the NRA's doublethink, this is good news, because more guns equals more safety. But if this were true, America would be the safest country on earth. Instead, we have a gun homicide rate 25 times higher than any peer nation.

After San Jose shooting: Confirm new ATF chief to police gun industry and save lives

But defanging the ATF was not enough for the gun lobby. Its cronies in Congress have repeatedly voted to undercut law enforcement and block additional funding. Most recently, lawmakers on the right opposed the American Rescue Plan, which includes funding to take down traffickers.

This point was recently made on Fox News, of all places, when news anchor Chris Wallace asked Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., “Can't you make the argument that it's you and the Republicans who are defunding the police?"

In its mission statement, the NRA claims to promote "law and order," but its systematic campaign to weaken one of the nation’s most vital law enforcement agencies says otherwise. No organization has done more to put Americans in the line of fire, and the cost of its success can be measured by a death toll that’s headed in the wrong direction.

John Feinblatt is president of Everytown for Gun Safety. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnFeinblatt

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Soaring gun crime disproves NRA claim that more guns equal more safety

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting