Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives: Wikis


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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Abbreviation ATF
ATF Seal
USA - ATF Badge.png
Badge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Agency overview
Formed July 1, 1972[1]
Preceding agency Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
Employees 4,559 (2006)
Annual budget 1 billion USD
Legal personality Governmental: Government agency
Jurisdictional structure
Federal agency United States
General nature
Operational structure
Headquarters ATF HQ by Matthew Bisanz.jpgWashington, D.C.
Agency executives
  • Kenneth E. Melson, Acting Director
  • William J. Hoover, Acting Deputy Director
Parent agency Department of Justice
U.S. Firearms
Legal Topics
Assault weapons ban
ATF (law enforcement)
Brady Violence Prevention Act
Concealed carry in the U.S.
Federal Firearms License
Firearm case law
Firearm Owners Protection Act
Gun Control Act of 1968
Gun laws in the U.S. — by state
Gun laws in the U.S. — federal
Gun politics in the U.S.
National Firearms Act
Second Amendment
Straw purchase
Sullivan Act (New York)
Violent Crime Control Act

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (abbreviated ATF) is a specialized federal law enforcement agency and regulatory organization within the United States Department of Justice.[2] Its responsibilities include the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives, acts of arson and bombings, and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products. The ATF also regulates via licensing the sale, possession, and transportation of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in interstate commerce. Many of ATF's activities are carried out in conjunction with task forces made up of state and local law enforcement officers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods. ATF operates a unique fire research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, where full-scale mock-ups of criminal arsons can be reconstructed.

The agency is led by Kenneth E. Melson, Deputy Director[3] and William J. Hoover, Executive Assistant Director.[4] ATF has nearly 5,000 employees and an annual budget of $1 billion.[3]


Organizational history

The ATF was formerly part of the United States Department of the Treasury, having been formed in 1886 as the "Revenue Laboratory" within the Treasury Department's Bureau of Internal Revenue. The history of ATF can be subsequently traced to the time of the revenuers or "revenoors"[5] and the Bureau of Prohibition, which was formed as a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1920, was made an independent agency within the Treasury Department in 1927, was transferred to the Justice Department in 1930, and became, briefly, a division of the FBI in 1933.

When the Volstead Act was repealed in December 1933, the Unit was transferred from the Department of Justice back to the Department of the Treasury where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Special Agent Eliot Ness and several members of "Untouchables", who had worked for the Prohibition Bureau while the Volstead Act was still in force, were transferred to the ATU. In 1942, responsibility for enforcing federal firearms laws was given to the ATU.

In the early 1950s, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was renamed "Internal Revenue Service" (IRS),[6] and the ATU was given the additional responsibility of enforcing federal tobacco tax laws. At this time, the name of the ATU was changed to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (ATTD).

In 1968, with the passage of the Gun Control Act, the agency changed its name again, this time to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the IRS and first began to be referred to by the initials "ATF." In 1972, President Richard Nixon signed an Executive Order creating a separate Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms within the Treasury Department. Rex D. Davis oversaw the transition, becoming the bureau's first director, having headed the division since 1970. During his tenure, Davis shepherded the organization into an agency targeting political terrorists and organized crime.[7] However, taxation and other alcohol issues were not held to high importance standards during that time.

In the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In addition to creating of the Department of Homeland Security, the law shifted ATF from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Justice. The agency's name was changed to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. However, the agency still was referred to as the "ATF" for all purposes. Additionally, the task of collection of federal tax revenue derived from the production of tobacco and alcohol products and the regulatory function related to protecting the public in issues related to the production of alcohol, previously handled by the Bureau of Internal Revenue as well as by ATF, was transferred to the newly established Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which remained within the Treasury Department. These changes took effect January 24, 2003.


ATF Investigators working at a fire scene.

ATF, as a bureau, consists of several different groups that each have their own respective role, commanded by a director. Special Agents are empowered to conduct criminal investigations, defend the United States against international and domestic terrorism, and work with state and local police officers to reduce violent crime on a national level. ATF Special Agents have some of the broadest authority of any federal agency; 18 U.S.C. § 3051 empowers them to enforce any statute in the United States Code. Specifically, ATF special agents have lead investigative authority on any federal crime committed with a firearm or explosive, as well as investigative authority over regulatory referrals and Cigarette smuggling. ATF special agents also often enforce violations of the Uniformed Controlled Substances Act, and have the statutory authority to conduct narcotics cases independently of the Drug Enforcement Administration or any other agency. ATF Special Agents consistently rank at the top or near the top of all federal agencies in cases referred for prosecution, arrests made, and average time per defendant on an annual basis.[8] Special Agents currently comprise around 2,400 of the Agency's approximately 5,000 personnel.

ATF Inspectors and Investigators are charged with regulating the gun and explosive industry. These men and women are not armed law enforcement officers but have administrative authority to search and conduct inspections, as well as to recommend revocation and/or non-renewal of Federal Firearms Licenses to licensees who are in violation of Federal firearms laws and regulations.

The remainder of the Bureau is personnel in various staff roles from office administrative assistants to intelligence analysts and electronic specialists. Additionally, ATF relies heavily on state and local task force officers to supplement the Special Agents and who are not officially part of the ATF roster.

Hiring and training

ATF Special Agent hiring is fiercely competitive, comparable to the selection process of other Special Agent positions in sister agencies. Typically far less than 5% of qualified applicants- those possessing at minimum a four year bachelor degree and competitive work experience (which is usually four or more years at a local or state police department) are eventually hired. ATF's hiring process has a nondisclosure agreement so the specific details of the process are not completely revealed, however applicants must pass a rigorous background check in order to achieve, at minimum, a top secret clearance. In addition to the background check agents must pass written tests, multiple physical fitness tests, interviews and medical exams to even be considered to be selected for training.

ATF Special Agents must complete a 27 week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. It is one of the longest training programs in the United States, far longer than any other training program of Justice Department Special Agents (FBI, DEA, USMS). This training program currently consists of a one week pre-Basic, the twelve week basic Criminal Investigator Training Program, and a fourteen week Special Agent Basic Training Course. Only then are Special Agents released to a field office to begin a three year probationary tour.

Regulation of firearms

ATF is responsible for regulating firearm commerce in the United States. The Bureau issues Federal Firearms Licenses (FFL) to sellers, and conducts firearms licensee inspections. The Bureau is also involved in programs aimed at reducing gun violence in the United States, by targeting and arresting violent offenders who unlawfully possess firearms. ATF was also involved with the Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative, which expanded tracing of firearms recovered by law enforcement, and the ongoing Comprehensive Crime Gun Tracing Initiative.[9] ATF also provides support to state and local investigators, through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) program.

Regulation of explosives

With the passage of the Organized Crime Control Act (OCCA) in 1970, ATF took over the regulation of explosives in the United States, as well as prosecution of persons engaged in criminal acts involving explosives. One of the most notable investigations successfully conducted by ATF agents was the tracing of the car used in the World Trade Center 1993 bombings, which led to the arrest of persons involved in the conspiracy.


ATF headquarters in Washington, D.C.

ATF during the 1990s

Two incidents in the early 1990s involved both the ATF and Federal Bureau of Investigation's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and brought criticism to both ATF and FBI.

The Ruby Ridge Siege began in June 1990 when ATF filed gun charges against Randy Weaver after he refused an offer to become an informant. When Weaver missed a February 20, 1991 court date, the US Marshals Service was charged with bringing Weaver in. Weaver remained with his family in their mountain top cabin. On August 21, 1992 a USMS surveillance team was involved in a shootout that left US Marshal Bill Degan, Samuel Weaver (14), and his pet dog dead. FBI HRT laid siege to the cabin; the next day, Lon Horiuchi, a HRT sniper opened fire on the Weavers, wounding Weaver and a family friend and killing his wife, Vicki. A subsequent Department of Justice review and a Congressional hearing raised several questions about the actions of ATF, USMS, USAO and FBI HRT and the mishandling of intelligence at the USMS and FBI headquarters.[10] The Ruby Ridge incident has become a lightning rod for legal activists within the gun rights community.

The second incident was the Waco Siege of the Branch Davidian religious sect near Waco, Texas on February 28, 1993 when ATF agents attempted to execute a federal search warrant on the sect's compound, known as Mt. Carmel. The Branch Davidians were alerted to the upcoming warrant execution but ATF raid leaders pressed on, despite knowing the advantage of surprise was lost. The resulting exchange of gunfire left six Davidians and four ATF agents dead. FBI HRT took over the scene and a 51-day stand-off ensued, ending on April 19, 1993, after the complex caught fire, possibly as a result of the HRT's introduction of flammable tear gas into the compound. The followup investigation revealed the bodies of seventy-six people including twenty children inside the compound. Although a grand jury found that the deaths were suicides or otherwise caused by people inside the building, accusations of excessive force by law enforcement persist.[11]

Timothy McVeigh cited these incidents as inspiration for the Oklahoma City Bombing.[12]


A list of recent ATF directors:[13]

See also


  1. ^ "History of ATF". Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 2009. http://www.atf.gov/about/history/. Retrieved 2009-05-02.  
  2. ^ ATF Online - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
  3. ^ a b Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson - Bio
  4. ^ Deputy Director
  5. ^ ATF Online - Press Release - 30th Anniversary of ATF
  6. ^ As early as the year 1918, however, the Bureau of Internal Revenue had begun using the name "Internal Revenue Service" on at least one tax form. See Form 1040, Individual Income Tax Return for year 1918, as republished in historical documents section of Publication 1796 (Rev. Feb. 2007), Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of the Treasury. Form 1040s for years 1918, 1919, and 1920 bore the name "Internal Revenue Service". For the tax years 1921 through 1928 the name was dropped, then was re-added for the 1929 tax year.
  7. ^ a b Holley, Joe (January 11, 2008). "Rex Davis, 83; ATF Ex-Chief, Moonshiners' Foe". Washington Post: p. B07. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/10/AR2008011003831.html. Retrieved 2009-05-04.  
  8. ^ "Prison sentences which initially rose have now fallen". Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Syracuse University. http://trac.syr.edu/tracatf/trends/v04/agenmedtimeG.html. Retrieved 2009-05-18.  
  9. ^ "ATF Snapshot (2006)". Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. http://www.atf.gov/publications/general/snapshots/atf-snapshot-2006.html.  
  10. ^ "D.O.J. Office of Professional Responsibility Ruby Ridge Task Force Report". U.S. Department of Justice. June 10, 1994. http://www.justice.gov/opr/readingroom/rubyreportcover_39.pdf. Retrieved 2009-04-30.  
  11. ^ David Thibodeau. The Truth About Waco. Salon.com
  12. ^ See "McVeigh Remorseless About Bombing," newswire release, Associated Press, March 29, 2001, reposted on rickross.com, accessed August 8, 2006.
  13. ^ "United States Government". World Statesmen.org. Ben Cahoon. http://www.worldstatesmen.org/USA_govt.html#atf. Retrieved 2009-04-30.  

External links


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