B. Todd Jones announced Friday that he was stepping down as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, creating another vacancy at the helm of the agency and likely setting up a political battle between the Obama administration and the powerful National Rifle Assn.
Jones was brought to the agency first as acting director, then confirmed as permanent director two years ago. But he took over only after a raucous political fight in which the NRA made it clear that the organization opposed naming a permanent director of the law enforcement agency and in many ways would prefer to see it disbanded altogether.
Jones said he was leaving to join the private sector, and emphasized that he had never planned to stay in Washington and run the ATF for more than 18 months. His tenure hit a snag when the bureau sought a bill to ban some armor-piercing bullets used in certain AR-15 firearms. It said the ban would protect law enforcement agents.
But the idea was shelved last week after hundreds of thousands of comments poured in opposing a ban, and Congress dropped it altogether.
Jones became head of the ATF after the Fast and Furious scandal. In that undercover operation, ATF agents on the Southwest border allowed guns to be illegally sold in the hope of tracking them to Mexican cartel leaders.
Instead, scores of firearms were lost, and many ended up with Mexican cartels anyway. A U.S. Border Patrol agent, Brian Terry, was killed. The top leadership of the ATF was removed and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. was found in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over certain Fast and Furious documents.
In a statement Friday, Holder applauded Jones' service to the ATF, calling him a "consummate professional and an outstanding public servant."
Jones, who earlier served as the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, praised the 5,000-member ATF, and said its employees "make our nation safer every day."
His last day is March 31. ATF Deputy Director Thomas E. Brandon will serve as acting director.
On Twitter: @RickSerranoLAT