President Obama on Wednesday announced a series of executive actions and proposed legislation designed to take the first steps toward comprehensive gun control, and announced that he will name the first permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in more than six years.
The president will nominate B. Todd Jones, currently the agency’s fifth acting director, to be its official head. The bureau has not had a permanent director since Congress required its director to face Senate confirmation in 2006, mostly because of objections to each of the nominees from Republicans and gun rights groups.
The ATF was split off from the Treasury Department in 2003 and placed under the Justice Department.
Even President George W. Bush was unable to get his ATF nominee through, when both Republican Senators from Idaho blocked then U.S. Attorney Mike Sullivan’s nomination, following complaints about him from gun dealers in the state.
President Obama’s first nominee, Andrew Traver, a former ATF special agent from Chicago, was blocked by Senate Republicans, too. He was labeled an “anti-gun zealot” by pro-gun groups.
Now, Jones will have his turn before the Senate.
Jones is currently the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, and has served in both positions — essentially serving at the ATF part-time — since he was named the acting director last August. He became that state’s first black U.S. attorney in 1998, after being recommended by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. President Obama renominated him in 2009 to the U.S. attorney post he had held under President Bill Clinton.
According to his agency bio, Jones is a former Marine infantry officer, who also served as both a prosecutor and defense counsel in courts martial cases. He graduated from Macalester College in 1979 and the University of Minnesota Law School in 1983 before enlisting. Jones left active duty in 1989, but was called back for Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Jones would take over an agency that has been depleted over the years. Republicans in Congress have routinely sought to curtail the agency’s funding, and the ATF has seen a series of staff reductions that has left it with fewer than 2,500 agents nationwide as of December.
At the same time, Republicans have sharply criticized the agency for failing to live up to its mandates, and blamed it for failed operations like the Fast and Furious anti-gun trafficking program, in which a border patrol agent was killed. Jones took over the agency in the midst of the Fast and Furious uproar, saying his goal was to help ATF “hit the reset button.”
His confirmation would make Jones the first African-American to head the ATF.
Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport.