GOP Senate hopeful J.D. Vance calls for abolishing ATF

AP Photo/Jeff Dean

We’re just a couple of months away from the Republican primaries in the battleground state of Ohio, where the fight to replace the retiring Rob Portman as U.S. Senator is getting interesting. While former state representative and state treasurer Josh Mandel has been leading in polls, the crowded field is still close enough that any number of candidates could end up with the nomination.

On Thursday, Portman announced his endorsement of Jane Timkin, the former chair of the state Republican Party who’s been getting about 10% of the vote in pre-primary polling. Portman’s endorsement will likely give Timkin at least a bit of a bump in polling, but other candidates are hoping to make some news of their own this week, including J.D. Vance, the author of the book Hillbilly Elegy who has been dogged throughout the campaign by his past comments bashing Donald Trump and current doubts about the sincerity of his supposed metamorphosis into a pro-Trump Republican.

In a new op-ed at the Cincinnati Enquirer, Vance decided to wade into into the controversy surrounding the ATF’s digitized database of nearly one-billion firearms transaction records, which the candidate says is clearly illegal.

Federal law explicitly prevents the creation of a federal firearms database, for the simple reason that such a database is a direct affront to the Second Amendment. As we’ve seen in other nations, specifically Australia and multiple countries in Europe, a firearms database is a backdoor way of disarming the citizenry. If the last two years has taught us anything, it should caution against giving broad, unconstitutional powers to unelected bureaucrats. Yet this is exactly what the ATF’s new database does.

Vance goes on to say that the establishment of this database, incomplete as it might be, is a clear sign that the Biden administration is focusing on legal gun owners when it should be going after cartel traffickers who are fueling both violent crime and record-high drug overdose rates in Ohio. Rather than try to reform the agency, Vance says it’s time to shut it down.

The ATF’s focus suggests radical change is needed. I want an ATF that prevents Mexican drug cartels from getting access to the most dangerous weapons in the world, while protecting my rights and those of my fellow citizens. The ATF is doing the opposite, so it’s time to get rid of it.

Some may wonder who will do the important work of ensuring criminal gangs and international terrorist organizations aren’t equipped with powerful weapons. It’s an important point, but this concern is actually well served by abolishing the ATF. When we strip funding from a bureaucracy that has failed to do its job, and we can redirect resources to groups that are actually keeping us safe.

Yes, the ATF could serve an important and valuable function, all while safeguarding the rights of citizens. But it doesn’t, so it’s time to start anew.

As campaign fodder, this is some juicy red meat for the GOP base. Heck, I’m all in favor of getting rid of the ATF (and the National Firearms Act, and the Gun Control Act, and the Hughes Amendment…), but I would also like to hear some additional details from Vance.

For instance, what agencies in particular should start doing the ATF’s job, and what would stop those agencies who take over the ATF’s responsibilities from engaging in the same type of backdoor gun registration schemes?

More importantly, given that there’s going to be virtually no chance of abolishing the ATF as long as a Democrat is in the White House, what’s Vance’s plan to deal with the agency’s overreach in the meantime? Does he have one, or is this just campaign rhetoric designed to boost his standing with gun owners ahead of the May primary?

It’s one thing to call for abolishing the ATF as an applause line in a campaign speech, but if Vance is serious about his proposal he needs to both flesh out the details and let gun owners know what can be done to hold the agency to account until the votes are there to axe it entirely. There needs to be some substance behind these statements if Vance is hoping to get Ohio gun owners excited to give him their votes a few months from now.