Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (abbreviated ATF, sometimes BATF or BATFE) is a specialized federal law enforcement and regulatory organization within the United States Department of Justice.[1] 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 one-of-a-kind fire research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, where full-scale mock-ups of criminal arsons can be reconstructed.

The agency is led by Michael J. Sullivan, Acting Director[2] and Ronnie A. Carter, Deputy Director.[3] ATF has nearly 5,000 employees and an annual budget of $1 billion.[4]

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[edit] 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 subordinate 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When the Volstead Act was repealed in December 1933, the Unit was transferred from the Department of Justice back to the Department of the Treasury where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit of the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 name of the Bureau of Internal Revenue was changed to "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 a premier agency targeting political terrorists and organized crime.[7]

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 (and its investigative and regulatory inspection functions) from the Treasury Department to the Justice Department. 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 liquor products originally handled 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.

[edit] 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 firearm law violators and virtue-testing law abiding gun owners [1]. 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.[8] ATF also provides support to state and local investigators, through the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) program.

[edit] 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.

[edit] Criticism

[edit] ATF during the 1990s

Two incidents in the early 1990s brought criticism to the agency, as well as to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), specifically the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and the U.S. Marshals.

The first incident occurred on August 21, 1992, in northern Idaho and is known as the Ruby Ridge incident. Federal agents seeking to arrest Randy Weaver for failing to appear in court to answer charges relating to possession of an illegally shortened sawed-off shotgun, shot and killed his wife, Vicki Weaver while she was nursing their 10 month old baby. The 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 compound in Waco, Texas from February 28, 1993 until April 19, 1993. The ATF attempted to execute a search warrant at a ranch owned by the Branch Davidians. This search warrant was based upon a suspicion that a $200 National Firearms Act (NFA) tax stamp had not been paid on a fully automatic firearm. An exchange of gunfire resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians. A subsequent 51-day siege by the Federal Bureau of Investigation ended on April 19 when the complex was destroyed by fire after the ATF, FBI, and state police in a combined effort had stormed the building in which the Davidians had sought refuge, deploying snipers, M2 Bradley IFV's, tear gas, and SWAT teams. Seventy-nine people, including 21 children and cult leader David Koresh, died in the incident. Although a grand jury found that the deaths were suicides or otherwise caused by people inside the building, widespread accusations of excessive force by law enforcement persist.[9]

[edit] References

  1. ATF Online - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
  2. Acting Director Michael J. Sullivan - Bio
  3. Deputy Director
  4. Acting Director Michael J. Sullivan - Bio
  5. ATF Online - Press Release - 30th Anniversary of ATF
  6. As early as the year 1929, 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 1929, as republished in historical documents section of Publication 1796 (Rev. Feb. 2007), Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Department of the Treasury.
  7. Rex Davis, 83; ATF Ex-Chief, Moonshiner's Foe, Washington Post, 11 January 2008
  8. ATF Snapshot (2006) Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
  9. David Thibodeau. The Truth About Waco. Salon.com

[edit] External links

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