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Andrew Traver: Is Obama's choice for ATF chief an 'antigun zealot'?

Obama's nomination of Andrew Traver to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) reignites concern that the White House wants to whittle away at gun rights. The last time that happened, Americans armed up.

By Staff writer / November 19, 2010

Andrew Traver, special agent in charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, displays an assault weapon, on Feb. 28, 2007, in Chicago.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

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Atlanta

ATF special agent Andrew Traver, who last year let a TV reporter fire an AK-47 from her hip to demonstrate the weapon's lethality, is set to become America's chief firearms inspector. But Mr. Traver, currently the Chicago ATF chief, faces a tough nomination battle as gun-rights groups amass their forces in opposition.

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The nomination of the Naperville, Ill., native to be top gun cop is applauded by gun-control activists, who say the 5,000-employee ATF has lost ground in its regulation of the $28 billion US firearms business, having labored under interim directors since 2006.

But the idea of an ATF director who hails from Chicago, a city without gun shops, and who has conflated black market automatic weapons with legal semi-automatic "assault-style" rifles is causing Second Amendment defenders to worry that President Obama intends to blast away at gun rights by force of bureaucracy, if not law.

"This is a demonstration that Obama has ... the same attitudes about Second Amendment rights now as he did [when he was an Illinois state senator], which is quite hostile," says Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Golden, Colo., that promotes free-market ideas. "He's picked a strong anti-Second Amendment person for an administrative job that has far more influence over the practical exercise of Second Amendment rights than any other job in the country."

Obama's election in 2008 touched off a run on guns, because gun rights advocates perceived him to hold antigun views. Americans spent $11 billion more in 2009 than in 2008 to buy guns, ammo, and gear – even in the face of recession.

Among the estimated 80 million gun owners in the US, many apparently didn't believe Obama when, on the 2008 campaign trail, he said : “I believe there is a Second Amendment right. I think it is an individual right. I think people have the right to lawfully bear arms.”

After it became clear that the new administration wouldn't propose, for example, reinstating the lapsed assault-weapons ban, and after US Supreme Court rulings that buttressed Second Amendment rights, the gun-buying frenzy tapered.

(FBI reports show gun violence in the US has declined, surprising those criminologists who saw the combination of the 2009 gun run and high jobless rates as a recipe for a spike in gun crimes and violence.)

The National Rifle Association and gun rights bloggers panned Traver's Nov. 17 nomination, saying his role as an adviser to an antigun-violence conference attended by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley proves that he's an "antigun zealot." Traver is also involved in the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which lobbies for tougher firearms laws to decrease urban gun violence.

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