Ranking Member Matt Cartwright Statement at the Fiscal Year 2024 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Hearing

2023-04-18 10:41

Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Ranking Member of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives:

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and thank you. And I would like to join you in welcoming Director Dettelbach in his first appearance before our subcommittee to discuss the FY2024 appropriation for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives – better known as “ATF.”   

The enforcement authorities of the ATF extend beyond what I assume will be a large focus of today’s hearing.  I am supportive of oversight of the ATF, I believe the ATF’s important role in gun violence prevention, along with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement partners, is one that deserves the attention of Congress on a bipartisan basis. Certainly, we all know the number of mass shootings in the country continue to rise in a new post-pandemic reality, with at least four deadly mass shootings just last week at a bank in Kentucky; a funeral home in Washington, DC; a pool party in North Carolina that took the life of a 15-year old girl; and an Indiana park where individuals were gathered in memory of a 19-year old who was fatally shot just the day before. All of these occurred just last week. 

This fails to mention the loss of life among our country’s most innocent in the last year – in places where our children should be focusing on their future by learning in our Nation’s classrooms. A recent poll found that one in five Americans have lost a family member who was fatally shot. This is a “new normal” that we simply cannot sustain. I was proud to support the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last year, which was an important first step in addressing gun violence prevention efforts at all levels of government. 

Further, as reflected in ATF’s Crime Guns report released in February of this year – after a twenty-year hiatus – we have a better understanding of the true threats to our communities from firearms used in crimes.  We now know privately-made firearms, or so called “ghost guns,” recovered by law enforcement have grown 1,000 percent since 2017 – a problem flagged early on as a growing risk to public safety and law enforcement by organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police.  We also now know that the time to crime for most legally purchased firearms is less than three years, and from 2017 to 2021, one million lawfully purchased firearms were stolen, and largely from private citizens who had no intention to do any harm. This type of information is crucial for our State, local, and Federal law enforcement and long overdue, and it is more important than ever to ensure that ATF has the resources you need to respond to these types of incidents and provide tracing information at the request of partner law enforcement agencies as expeditiously as possible.

DOJ has previously confirmed in its March 18th letter to the Committee that cuts to the ATF’s budget would increase trace times at the National Tracing Center by more than two months due to reduced staff, and also result in fewer ATF Special Agents available to assist local law enforcement in communities across the country. Let’s not forget, outside of firearms, ATF special agents are responding to and partnering with Federal, State, local, and international law enforcement agencies in crimes involving explosives, bombings, and explosive threats. ATF also is the only U.S. government agency with fire and arson investigation as part of its core mission.  The specialized training and forensic expertise ATF brings to partner law enforcement agencies is invaluable.

Director Dettelbach, I look forward to hearing how the investments you are requesting in FY 2024 bill will help to make our communities safer and support our State and local law enforcement in combatting gun violence.  So once again, welcome, and I look forward to your testimony.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back. 

118th Congress