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ATF finally poised to move forward with real leadership

U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, President Obama's choice to lead the ATF
U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, President Obama's choice to lead the ATFAssociated Press

Ask conservative opponents of gun reforms what they'd like to see from law enforcement, and you'll probably get a predictable answer: we should enforce the gun laws we already have, not approve new ones. For the last several years, however, that's been easier said than done.

Enforcement of existing gun laws generally falls under the purview of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which has lacked a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader for the last seven years, thanks to opposition from Republicans and the National Rifle Association, both of which have reflexively balked at the very idea of an ATF chief.

With this in mind, we may be poised for a breakthrough this week.

NRA director of public affairs Andrew Arulanandam on Tuesday confirmed the organization of 4-milion-plus members would neither fight the nomination of Todd Jones nor support it. He declined to discuss why the NRA, a longtime foe of ATF, decided not to oppose Jones.

The NRA decision clears the way for senators from pro-gun states -- Democrats as well as at least some Republicans -- to vote for Jones without fear of political repercussions.

Jones' nomination may reach the Senate floor as early as today, and his odds of success are clearly better now thanks to the NRA's neutrality. That said, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) continues to rail against the nominee, and yet another filibuster remains a possibility.

If Jones is considered on the merits, however, Senate support should be pretty easy -- he's already serving as the acting ATF director, splitting his time while also serving as a U.S. Attorney, and he's done well reforming the ATF, getting the agency back on track after the "Fast and Furious" controversy. The nominee has also received extensive support from the law enforcement community.

If confirmed, Jones would be the first ATF chief since 2006 -- the point at which Congress, at the NRA's behest, changed the law to make the post that requires Senate approval.

In January, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, President Obama unveiled a fairly detailed policy agenda on preventing gun violence, featuring 23 executive actions, some of which were quite mundane. Having a confirmed ATF director was considered one of the easier provisions on the list.