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Republicans critical of Biden funding request for gun agency

The most vocal backers of Second Amendment gun rights have criticized administration actions to toughen firearm enforcement

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., seen at a hearing last week, introduced legislation to repeal a Biden administration gun rule.
Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., seen at a hearing last week, introduced legislation to repeal a Biden administration gun rule. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Joe Biden’s proposed budget increase for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in fiscal 2024 faces sharp opposition from many House Republicans who want to make cuts this budget cycle.

Biden’s budget proposal seeks $1.9 billion for the agency in fiscal 2024, a 7.4 percent bump from the current fiscal year, as Democrats have defended the ATF as a critical part in combating an epidemic of American gun violence.

The budget request also calls for an increase in agency funding to implement a 2022 law to address gun violence, a measure that got support from only 14 of the 207 House Republicans who voted.

Republicans who are the most vocal backers of Second Amendment gun rights have criticized the Biden administration’s actions to toughen firearm enforcement — and had planned to hold a markup Tuesday on a resolution to repeal one of them.

But a House website listed that markup as postponed as of late Monday. Earlier in the day, an attacker at an elementary school in Nashville, Tenn., fatally shot three children and three adults, according to multiple news reports. Police fatally shot the attacker.

Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, a gun store owner who sits on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the ATF funding, said his party’s push to reduce spending to fiscal 2022 levels will apply to the ATF and the Justice Department.

“So I don’t see them getting an increase in any way,” Clyde said of the president’s request.

The partisan divide over the ATF was most recently on display at a joint subcommittee hearing that focused on a final rule, submitted by the Justice Department earlier this year, that would require gun owners to register pistols with stabilizing braces that turn them into short-barreled rifles.

Clyde introduced a resolution that his office says would prevent the agency from enforcing the rule. The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a markup on the resolution for Tuesday.

Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who supports the resolution, lambasted the rule as he floated a cut to agency funding and suggested lawmakers eliminate the agency altogether.

“I hope that we can act to put an end to this ATF overreach,” Biggs said at the hearing. “And I would suggest that the most effective approach is to reduce funding, or better still eliminate all funding. And even better, eliminate this woke, weaponized agency.”

Congress took the rare step of passing a gun law last year after public outrage over a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas. The package requires more thorough background checks for gun purchasers under 21 years old and helps with implementation of “red flag” laws.

The ATF is requesting $71 million to implement the legislative package, calling it the most “substantial” change to federal firearms law in a generation.

A Justice Department budget document said the agency’s ability to implement the new law “comprehensively is dependent on the appropriate resources,” calling it the most “substantial” change to firearms law at the federal level in a generation.

With Republicans now in control of the House, Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he supports using the appropriations process to slow down the implementation of gun provisions.

“I think there’s lots of things we should do during the appropriations process because that’s our job. And ATF is certainly one of those agencies where I think that applies,” Jordan said.

But Democratic Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, long a leading voice for tougher gun laws and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said a bill that cuts ATF funding will not pass the Senate or be signed by the president.

Republicans generally say the government should enforce the laws on the books instead of passing new ones, Murphy said.

“It’s not a very well-kept secret that they actually don’t really want to enforce the laws that we have,” Murphy said. “I don’t think that’s where the vast majority of Americans are. I think Americans want our gun laws to be enforced.”

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