Traver Off Target
Obama’s ATF pick exemplifies what is wrong with U.S. law enforcement.


Kevin D. Williamson

Pres. Barack Obama has nominated Andrew Traver, an episodically dishonest campaigner against Americans’ right to keep and bear arms, to be head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. ATF is arguably the least competent of our major federal law-enforcement agencies and unquestionably the least impressive of them. The bureau probably ought to be dissolved and its functions dispersed among other agencies before it does more harm to the republic than it already has; it certainly should not be entrusted to a man with documented hostility toward Americans’ ancient constitutional rights and a remarkably backward view of the role firearms play in American criminal violence.

Agent Traver has lent his name and his agency’s clout to the usual range of anti-gun causes, including repealing the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the use of the ATF’s firearms database to criminal investigations, forcing gun-grabbers and class-action lawyers to gather their own data. (The nerve.) Also among Mr. Traver’s sins, which inevitably have been catalogued by the NRA, was using the reliably gullible media to mislead the public about the nature of the firearms covered by the now-expired “assault weapons” ban.

Agent Traver, at that time in charge of the ATF’s Chicago office, made exaggerated claims about the nature and prevalence of the “assault weapons” used by criminals in Chicago, and then, for the benefit of all those voters out there in TV-land, armed an NBC reporter with a machine gun — a fully automatic AK-47, to be exact — and watched as she fecklessly sprayed bullets about for the camera, missing everything she aimed at. As Agent Traver knew full well, the assault-weapons ban had not one thing to do with fully automatic weapons like the AK-47, which are very tightly regulated under other federal laws. The assault-weapons ban dealt with semiautomatic weapons — i.e., pull the trigger once, one bullet is fired, pull the trigger again, another bullet is fired, etc. — but those do not lend themselves as easily to flights of high rhetoric, and are not nearly as dramatic on television, as machine guns. Having spent some time observing the ATF’s for-the-cameras shenanigans at the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas, I know that the bureau loves nothing better than drama.

Mr. Traver’s forked-tongue performance in that sloppy NBC story was typical: The popular-disarmament gang has long attempted to conflate semiautomatic weapons and machine guns in the public mind, though it was unusual, almost refreshing, to see a federal law-enforcement agent engaged in so flagrant and undisguised a display of dishonesty. Most of the so-called assault weapons are the ballistic equivalent of sheep in wolves’ clothing; they’re basically scary-looking squirrel guns. The greatest part of them are .223-caliber semiautomatic rifles, which is to say that they are largely indistinguishable from the little .22-caliber plinkers boys have been knocking cans off of fence posts with for generations. The .223 is too small to be used legally for deer hunting in most of the country — these paramilitary terrors being insufficient to bring down Bambi cleanly. Notable, that: The gun-grabbers always insist that they do not want to restrict hunters’ access to legitimate sporting guns, but a North American hunter stalking grizzly bears or moose frequently will be armed with a rifle packing a far more powerful pop than that of those carried by most of the world’s infantrymen.

All of which is rather beside the point, since rifles as a category, from Granddad’s deerslayer to Uncle Nasty’s assault rifle, are used only rarely in crimes. Even for a gangster in sagging jeans, it’s hard to walk around casually with Elmer Fudd’s blunderbuss in your shenanigans, and those .50-caliber competition-grade rifles they’re soiling themselves over in California go for about 15 grand, putting them out of the financial range of Joe Crackhead. Rifles just aren’t where the action usually is, crime-wise.

Which is not beside the point. What Traver and those philosophically aligned with him are engaged in is the opposite of law enforcement. We might call their business anti-policing, inasmuch as they seek to restrict the actions of law-abiding citizens — lawful gun owners, licensed firearms dealers — while largely leaving actual criminals untouched. If that sounds like I am overstating my case, consider the evidence.

Rifles are rarely used in crimes, but rarely isn’t never. A rifle, widely (and wrongly) reported to be an AK-47, was used in a terrible crime mentioned in the same NBC story in which Traver peddled his duplicitous firearms flim-flam: the shooting of 14-year-old Starkesia Reed by a murderous, lovelorn gangster named Carail Weeks. Weeks was upset that his ex-girlfriend had taken up with another man and randomly shot up his rival’s block. (Really, gangsters should be made of sterner stuff.) One of the bullets hit Miss Reed, who was watching the mayhem through her living-room window, in the head. She died.


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