BAFTE Head Likely to Resign Amid “Gunwalker” Controversy

Kenneth Melson, current Chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is reportedly expected to resign amid criticism over the Bureau’s embattled “Fast and Furious” gun smuggling program.

According to CNN’s Terry Frieden as well as a number of media outlets, Melson will likely step down after leading the ATF since April of 2009. The ATF, Melson, and high ranking Justice Department officials have found themselves under heavy fire after details of “Project Gunrunner” were leaked. Media attention on “Gunrunner” escalated when, in December of 2010, a gun used in the killing of an American border agent was eventually traced back to the U.S., and allegedly, to the ATF.

Among the details leaked by informants were allegations that ATF and Justice Dept. authorities allowed large numbers of guns to be sold to smugglers and walked across the border into Mexico in an alleged scandal that came to be known as “Project Gunwalker.” According to reports, sources claim the agency did so in an attempt to later trace the guns to large drug cartels, the idea being that law enforcement would then bring these cartels to justice.  Other informants accuse the agency of allowing guns to be smuggled across the border in order to pad gun crime statistics, thereby ensuring increased ATF funding from the federal government. Congressional hearings investigating the allegations commenced last week.

Many believe Melson will be succeeded by Andrew Traver, the head of the ATF field office in Chicago. Traver was nominated by President Obama in November, but was not confirmed by the Senate. The ATF has lacked a Senate-confirmed director since 2006, as both the Obama and Bush administrations have encountered opposition during the nomination process from gun rights groups. The NRA has questioned Traver’s “hostility” toward gun rights and the Second Amendment.