Acting ATF Director Marvin Richardson is a 30+ -year veteran of the agency who’s slated for retirement later this year, which makes this news from The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski pretty shocking: Richardson has been demoted from his current role and has been replaced by U.S. Attorney Gary Restaino, who was just appointed by Biden as the top federal prosecutor for the District of Arizona six months ago.
Gutowski joins me on today’s Bearing Arms Cam & Co to discuss the shake-up at the ATF and what prompted the changes, which he says has the hallmarks of gun control activists like Giffords’ David Chipman, who failed to be approved as Biden’s first choice for ATF Director.
Chipman has been highly critical of Richardson, accusing the acting director of being too chummy with the firearms industry. The New York Times even points to Richardson’s attendance at this year’s Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade show as one of the things that led to his demotion.
The bureau’s current acting director, Marvin G. Richardson, a career official who drew criticism over an appearance in January with the head of the gun industry’s main trade group, will remain at the agency as a deputy director to advise Mr. Restaino, the officials said.
The personnel moves at A.T.F. come at a critical crossroads for the administration. The country is experiencing a surge in gun-related violence not seen in decades. Mr. Biden, who promised during his campaign to expand background checks and ban most semiautomatic rifles, has been stymied by Congress in his efforts to enact even modest changes.
Gutowski reports that Richardson’s announcement to ATF employees was greeted with surprise and dismay, and the Times calls the interim director “popular with the A.T.F. rank and file.” But Richardson has been scapegoated by the gun control lobby for not moving swiftly enough to enact new proposed rules restricting home-built firearms and pistols equipped with stabilizing braces, and according to Gutowski’s reporting, the Biden administration is eager for the agency to take a more hostile and adversarial approach to the firearms industry.
At least some ATF sources perceive Richardson’s demotion as a politically-motivated punishment. A second ATF source with dozens of years of experience confirmed Richardson is being replaced by Restaino. They said the demotion was likely a result of perceptions inside the administration that Richardson is too friendly towards the gun industry.
“This administration has some very strong opinions on guns,” the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Reload. “They may have some distaste with that. So, bringing in [Restaino] kind of negates that.”
A third source from inside the firearms industry, who asked not to be identified because the move is not yet public, confirmed Richardson is being moved out of the acting director position in favor of Restaino.
The second ATF source said Richardson’s efforts to maintain a working relationship with the industry did not soften the agency’s enforcement of gun regulations and are integral to making cases.
“A lot of the tips that we would get on illegal firearms activity from straw purchasers to traffickers came from dealers,” they said. “The reality is just a very, very small percentage of gun dealers are bad. So, those partnerships are important, and Marvin really did a great job at nurturing those relationships.”
But the source said gun-control activists and the Biden Administration have increasingly viewed maintaining a close working relationship with the industry as detrimental to the agency’s mission.
“The fact that he has those relationships may not have sat well with the current administration,’ they said. “And I’m sure that that might’ve helped them push him out.”
While this move may be intended to pave the way for the confirmation of former U.S. Attorney (and pro-gun control political candidate) Steve Dettelbach as permanent director of the ATF, Gutowski believes the demotion of Richardson could end up backfiring on the Biden administration. Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats and, along with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, refused to support Chipman’s nomination, reportedly suggested Marvin Richardson as an acceptable permanent director. Richardson’s unceremonious demotion shortly before his retirement may not play well on Capitol Hill, and Dettelbach’s support for gun bans and other infringements on our Second Amendment rights should give King and Manchin just as much trouble as David Chipman’s anti-gun ideology did.
“Should” and “will” are two very different things, however, especially when politicians are involved. It remains to be seen whether Dettelbach has the votes to be confirmed, but one thing is certain: Joe Biden is ready to sacrifice what little political capital he has left on his attempt to transform the ATF into a gun control group with law enforcement powers.