Federal Gun Agency Gets Its First Permanent Director in Seven Years

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) flew back from North Dakota to cast the deciding vote to break a filibuster of Todd Jones' nomination to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heidi_Heitkamp_official_portrait_113th_Congress.jpg">United States Senate</a>/Wikimedia Commons

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On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency tasked with enforcing federal gun laws. Jones, an attorney and former Marine, has served as the acting head of the agency since 2011. He becomes its first permanent director since 2006, the year that the National Rifle Association successfully lobbied Congress to require that ATF directors be confirmed by the Senate.

When President Obama nominated Jones to head the ATF in January, politicos expected a gun-lobby showdown. But although the NRA has opposed all ATF nominations since the 2006 rule change and for decades has prevented the agency from fully enforcing gun laws, it unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that it would not take a position on Todd’s confirmation vote. The Newtown, Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association that represents gun manufacturers, announced its support for Jones the same day.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, hailed the vote as a “critical step in the fight to reduce gun crime.” Boston Mayor Tom Menino, the group’s other co-chair, said, “After seven years without a permanent director at the helm, ATF will finally have the strong leadership it needs to stem the flow of illegal guns onto our streets and help keep our communities safe.”

With the vote stalled at 59-40 through Wednesday afternoon, senators waited for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) to arrive at the Capitol en route from her home state to cast the deciding vote needed to overcome a filibuster. Heitkamp, whose return to Washington was delayed because of an illness, was one of only four Democrats to vote against the Senate’s failed gun reform legislation in April. All four voted to break the filibuster against Jones, as did six Republicans: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

I emailed Sarah Binder, a political science professor at George Washington University, to ask how common it is for senators to fly into Washington to cast a deciding vote:

It’s not very common (at all), but neither is it unprecedented. The example that comes to mind is a (roughly) similar situation when the 2009 stimulus vote was held open to give Sherrod Brown time to get back to Washington amidst funeral services for his mother in Ohio.

But other than that recent example, nothing else expressly similar comes to mind. There are older stories of the House GOP leadership holding open the vote on Medicare expansion in 2003 for several hours, and a House Dem open vote some years earlier (involving Rep. Jim Chapman and Speaker Wright). Both of those episodes entailed holding open a vote for the winning side to squeak by (if I’m recalling correctly!).

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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