Initial hopes were that somehow the bad press that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (still known as ATF) has been receiving had caused the agency to pull back in its prosecution of criminal cases involving guns. But those hopes have faded.

Reports from Syracuse University showed that there were 6,791 such prosecutions recommended by the ATF in President George W. Bush’s last year (2008), while there were just 5,082 gun violation cases under Obama in 2013 — a decline of 25 percent. The all-time high occurred during the Bush administration in 2004, when 8,752 cases were brought by the Justice Department. And so far this year, prosecutions have declined even further, likely to end the year at fewer than 4,400, if the present trend continues.

On the surface this appears to contradict the president, who stated, following the Newtown massacre, “We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.”

The obvious incongruity between these numbers and public pronouncements by the anti-gun president was reflected by Robert Cottrol, professor at George Washington University: “We have this irony. The Obama administration, which is asking for more in the way of gun regulations … is actually prosecuting less of the gun laws already on the books.”

Many excuses were offered to explain the dichotomy — among them, budget cuts and bad press. This appeared to be reinforced by some ATF agents interviewed anonymously by the Washington Times, who said the agency had been burned by scandals such as Fast and Furious and an extensive report by USA Today on setting up fake stings to entrap potential criminals:

The current climate within ATF is: Let’s take a step back and not go after too many hard-hitting violent crime cases that use informants or undercover agents. We can’t just go it alone anymore….

We need buy-in from everybody: local law enforcement [and] other agencies. Then, and only then, [will we be] able to sell it [and have] the U.S. attorney come on board.

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