ATF Details

The ATF has wide-ranging responsibilities in law enforcement. It investigates offenses concerning the use, manufacture, sale, and possession of firearms and explosives, arson, bombing, and terrorism as well as ensuring compliance with tax legislation concerning alcohol and tobacco. The ATF is a federal agency that frequently works alongside local and state law enforcement agencies.

Although the remit of the ATF covers a very wide range of potential and actual offenses, you can break down its essential structure into three sections:

  • Special Agents: Agents work with other organizations and local and state enforcement agencies to investigate crimes and combat terrorism. All agents are highly trained and carry top-level security clearance.
  • Industry Operations Investigators: These people ensure that businesses and individuals comply with the legislation that governs those activities that fall within ATF's area of activity.
  • Support: An agency such as the ATF requires many people who work to support its activities. Support staff range from office administration personnel to highly trained specialists in forensic science.

Real World Example of ATF

The United States is the leader in gun-related crime, and the Federal Government has tried various initiatives over the years to combat this problem. One of these initiatives is the Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). PSN is the responsibility of the Department of Justice. ATF oversees its implementation. The project began operations in 2001 under President George W. Bush. As its name suggests, PSN aims to curtail gun violence in local areas.

The strategy that PSN uses focuses on three related priorities. Firstly, it emphasizes the importance of aggressive prosecution of violent groups such as gangs; secondly, PSN demands that all federal laws are rigorously enforced; and, finally, that federal legislation on firearms should be applied without exceptions. PSN supports training programs that support its work against gangs.

The project has cost an estimated $1.5 billion tax dollars since its inception.

History of ATF

The ATF can trace its history back to 1886 to a branch of the Department of the Treasury called the Revenue Laboratory. What is now the ATF became an independent agency in 1927 but remained under Treasury control. The Justice Department took over responsibility for the agency in 1930, and it briefly formed part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The ATF was very busy during the years of prohibition. Prohibition came to an end in 1933, and the agency moved back to the Department of the Treasury.

In the 1950s, the ATF took responsibility for enforcing tobacco tax legislation and then took its present name after the 1968 Gun Control Act and joined the Internal Revenue Service. In 2002, when the Homeland Security Act came into effect, the ATF took its present form and moved from the Treasury Department to the Department of Justice.

The ATF has had its share of controversies over the years. Two examples are its over-zealous involvement in the Waco Siege and the Ruby Ridge Siege in the early 90s.