What exactly is the ATF and how did they get here?

The ATF has quite the convoluted history. In 1862, looking for a way to collect taxes, Congress created the Office of Internal Revenue, which fell under the Department of the Treasury, specifically for collecting taxes on the highly profitable commodity of alcohol and tobacco. In order to combat alcohol tax evaders, the Office hired three detectives to investigate and prosecute those skirting the law. Of course, when the United States went legally dry in 1920, those three detectives could not possibly handle all the gangsters and bootlegging. The Department of Treasury upped the ante and hired more law enforcement to help control the illegal making and distribution of alcohol. This group became the Prohibition Unit.

For years, the Prohibition Unit faced an enormous task of fighting bootlegging. Organized gangs ran rampant. By 1927, the Unit proved themselves strong and separated from the Department of Treasury, strictly becoming a law enforcement unit. In 1933, the Prohibition Unit transferred over to the Department of Justice, but that same end saw the end of Prohibition. All federal agencies regulating the making, sale, and distribution of alcohol merged under the Treasury again and became known as the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU). Once again, the unit was to enforce taxes on alcohol and shut down illegal alcohol makers and sellers.

When describing this time period the ATF’s website states, “Gangs battled viciously for control of underground distilleries and distribution networks. Machineguns continued to be the weapon of choice. Gangsters killed each other on street corners, in social clubs and in restaurants. The massacres often resulted in the injury or death of innocent bystanders.” The National Firearms Act of 1934 passed, controlling the importation, manufacture, and distribution of “gangster” type firearms. Enforcement of this Act continued to fall under the Alcohol Tax Unit.

The timeline from 1934 to 1951 gets a little fuzzy. As in, the ATF left it out. In 1951, for whatever reason, the Bureau of Internal Revenue becomes the Internal Revenue Service. The Alcohol Tax Unit therefore gets control of the “Miscellaneous Tax Unit,” which includes the National Firearms Act of 1934.

They merge again in 1952 to become the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division.

In 1968, Congress passes the Omnibus Crime Control Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968, further restricting firearms. The Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 adds restrictions and laws against bombs, mines, grenades, and other explosives. Congress therefore hands over control to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division and the ATF is born! It was not until 1972 that the ATF’s focus switches to firearms control, regulation, and enforcement. In this year, the ATF starts reporting to the Department of Treasury’s Office of Enforcement, Tariff and Trade Affairs and Operations.

Anyone else still confused on how an agency developed to enforce the taxes on alcohol and tobacco has become a firearms enforcement agency? From 1997 to 2002, the ATF grew prosecutions for firearms violations 282%! Wow! Out of the top 19 ATF prosecutions, none are alcohol related, one is for “trafficking in contraband cigarettes” (oh the horror)… and the rest? Oh yeah, firearms violations.

The ATF’s origins seem to make sense from the historical perspective. Bootlegging was a problem, gun violence was a problem, but the illegal making, transfer, distribution, and sell of alcohol and tobacco is not such a problem anymore. In 2003, deriving from the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the ATF gets transferred to the Department of Justice to under the newly formed unit Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The only thing that changes about the ATF’s official name is that they add “Explosives” to the title.

So what exactly does the ATF do now? Part of the ATF’s “Strategic Plan,” downloadable from their website, states they “…deter the diversion of firearms from lawful commerce into the illegal market with enforcement strategies and technology.”  Oh really? I find that curious.

Is the ATF redundant? I will let you decide.

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Comments (34)

  1. What really is interesting is the government is controlled by the Vatican and the British Crown and they know how to prey on the women, with feely touchy ways. It is always the same approach, pay attention to what the Mooslims are doing and getting away with it.

  2. The anti-gunners are not really anti-gun they just want all the power in the federal Gov’t. Disarmed people are considerably easier to control than an armed people. The Gov’t. wants you under their thumb where you have to ask for permission. This in short is a NANNY State where you have no rights except what the Gov’t. gives you. Any right given by the Gov’t. can be taken away by the Gov’t. I myself will not live like that!! I am not a slave!! I am a proud American Veteran.

    1. You are correct. Once upon a time my Mom told me of an anti gunner that shot and killed some man, walking through this guys front yard. Feinstein is another and there was no bomb in her car. She is old thank God these bastards grow old and die. They are the only ones that can be armed and ready?

  3. in case you didn’t get this the first time I want this to go to THE FBI DOJ the CIA the president of United States AND Congress! help me and help America send this along to every congressman every person you can think of it might have a problem with our Constitution and believe me they do you seem it is this ease stop going after our Constitution and the Bill of Rights like it is cannon fodder! Quit attacking our 2nd Amendment rights. if you can’t get it done through the proper channels basically through the front door you have shown and proven to the American people you are more than willing to use the back door!!! and that is not freedom that is not the United States that is not democracy that is fascism that is dictatorship let that not be your legacy! backdoor politics and the outrageous lies to the American people! and you try to pull one tipe of ammunition. that is a out right attack on the Second Amendment rights of Americans because there isn’t one person I know or have talked to on social media or in person and I talk to on a regular basis that are stupid these people are intelligent gun owners! I have spent my whole life training with weapons safety courses!  safety course after safety courses! I was raised that way so are my children!!! The 2nd amendment has absolutely nothing to do with sporting 3 gun precision shooting any of that and you know it! once anyone gets the ability to outlaw even one tipe of ammunition that is the end and the downfall of our 2nd Amendment rights is that the legacy you want to leave our great country!!! I hope to God you don’t! do you care about our Constitution and the Bill of Rights and all the things that Martin Luther King and many people like him they fought so hard for there inalienable rights stop this before the flood gates open and then the America you grew up in and I grew up in starts to look like something real scary and terrifying out of control and radical government dictatorship and people in fear of the extreme government over reach… I hope and PRAY no one has the power to leed us down that snake filled path! So I implore you and all Americans to stand up now before we are forced to lay down! god bless america!

  4. The firearms and explosives functions of the ATF will be transferred to the FBI along with all the agents in order to avoid law suits. Then, we will know what nazi jack booted thugs are all about when we have 20000 agents enforcing the gun laws instead of 2500.

  5. These night clubs and bars are ran by liberals and laced with drugs etc……You cannot bring a weapon into these clubs by law(some states are different)……So if there were no liberals running these clubs then the drugs would not be there……If we have local and state police to do these kinds of jobs, and the FBI, CIA….Then why do we need the ATF to go sell guns to mexican drug gangs behind our backs and only to try and dissolve our gun dealers and get rid of our 2nd amendment???

  6. Rights are being eroded and politicians are stealing the gold from grandma,s teeth ,just a matter of time until this country falls,Nothing lasts forever

  7. The ATF is a rogue agency which in its current incarnatione exists for no other purpose but to do its best to limit a constitutional right. The ATF should be dismantled, its leadership tried for treasonous undermining of the Constitution, and all of its employees past and present should be stripped of all benefits for time-in with this criminal organization. Tyranny exists in our mist solely because we allow it.

  8. Apparently the logical solution to some idiot who doesn’t know how to use something properly and acts irresponsibly and criminally with it is to ban it entirely.

    Back in the 1900s there were no restrictions or regulations on firearm ownership. Any old chump could own any modern weapon they pleased without limitation (what is considered today’s Class III included). Crime was so unheard of that police often didn’t even feel it necessary to carry a firearm on duty, they mainly carried their nightsticks and MAYBE a small .38 revolver if that.

    Nowadays with all their modern gun control laws and regulations, crime is such an embarrassment that they need law enforcement to run around with full auto sub-machine guns just to maintain MODERATE control of the situation on crime.
    (Oh and by the way, I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said, “Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry.”.)


    Just look at the current culprits of the most restrictive gun control laws (New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California) and ask yourself.. who has the highest rate of crime out of any other state in the United States? Who has the lowest? Think we all ought to take a page out of Texas’s book on this one.

    -“This message has been brought to you by the wise words of a man who is older than dog-shit”

  9. The ATF, or BATFE rather, has such a shady past that they should be considered a criminal organization and disbanded. With them, some is legal until they say it isn’t. Who are they and why can they change the laws without any congressional approval? (The ATF and just because.)

  10. As the joke goes, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should be a convenience store, not a government bureau. As for the numerous moves and name changes… working with a bunch of juvenile cowboys gets good agents killed. In other words, no one wants to play with them. Read what the head of the FBI said about them when it was suggested that the FBI and ATF merge…

  11. I think it is time for me to make PUBLIC why I do NOT, EVER leave tips for waitresses or waiters at restaurants.

    I think they should be HONORED to have been given the opportunity to Serve ! Me ! and my entourage.

    fierce and love,


  12. Not bad article but way to curt to fully explain what the nature of US’s now combined Domestic Intelligence. and Enforcement. Agencys are.
    BATF agents no longer concentrate soley on guns and revenue issues on Federal issues but are part and parcel of what Clinton, Bush and Obama talked about,an armed force on domestic soil as powetfull as any of our military foces in foreign nations.
    Homeland Security is now responsible for training all policing agencys on domestic soilat least in the firearms and tactical response teams and are affiliated and integrated with all intel agencys as well, including US military intel.
    Fe,and they have full authority of armed responce.
    Batf is a bureaucracy of many but in the operative field they are but a minority and all under Homeland Security auspices.
    Today is not your daddys america.):

    It has bevome a National military Force
    The amount of cross operational and joint operational operations, that do indeed include military trainers and observers means one day a BATF may be on a drug raid and next day on a Cos
    st Guard cruier or entering any number of foreign nations borders for numerous dutys.
    Add to the fact that any fed agency now as unknown number of civilian security contractors with special authorization to be used by the feds that even yhe numbers of agents is kept secret

  13. Disband the BATFE. The Treasury already handles alcohol and tobacco with is mostly about taxes anyway. Give the FBI the resources and mandate to handle GROSS violations of firearms and explosives laws, i.e. a gang smuggling in crates of full-auto AKs or terrorists cooking up explosives. Get rid of the majority of “gun control” laws and be done with these thugs in uniforms.

  14. Simply put, the BATFE is the devil. Gun control and regulation is unconsitutional, end of story.

  15. ATF are the old revenuers that just got greedy and power hungry….more of the same, just deeper….they are arrogant a.h.’s imho…one I knew personally had the cute little saying when you asked how he was doing…he would say “just walking the tightrope of danger and intrique”…the dipwad never did anything but shoot off his mouth!

  16. I have not seen one action to protect citizen RIGHTS in years. Only protection of benefits and entitlements at the expense of the real American’s freedom. Our government is currently protecting their “entitlement” to rule without resistance. We have failed as citizens by not keeping and maintaining “organized militias” since the founding of this country. Now any attempt to create a militia will be viewed as terrorism in the communist state of america. If the second amendment were written today it would state that civilian militias are allowed to fly armed f-22s and have well armed missile silos….etc. The second amendment did not give us the right to own black powder guns it gave American’s the right to fight tyrants.

  17. I’m fairly certain that the BATFE is responsible for a fair amout of the “diversion of firearms from legal commerce into criminal hands”. “We The People” need to let all of our Congress Members know that, if they do not hold accountable everyone responsible for the “Fast & Furious” debacle, we will vote them out in September. I am forty nine years old and this is the most disgusting and blatant act of corruption in my lifetime. This criminal action must not be allowed to be swept under the rug in Washington, no matter who is liabel. Eric Holder, Janet Napalitano, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama should all be hauled before congressional hearings and all of their records should be seized. Seperation of powers was never meant to allow criminal operations to fester within our own federal government. Two United States Federal Agents and hundreds of Mexican Nationals have lost their lives to guns supplied to criminal cartels by the BATFE acting under orders from the Department of Justice. Americans CANNOT allow criminals to operate with impunity within OUR federal government.

  18. The most unamerican and anti gun organization in law enforcment.

    Only robbers and crooks wear masks.

    No respect for these thugs. There no better then the cartels themselves.

  19. Only soldiers in the 3rd world wear masks.

    Is this where our country is now?

    How far we’ve fallen….

  20. The ATF ships guns in to Mexico that are used to kill American law enforcment and Mexican citizens. The entire organization is obsolete an should be dismantled ASAP.

    The perpitraitors of “operation fast and furious” along with the other “operations” that allowed truck loads of coke to be let into the country, that allow banks like wells Fargo to charter cargo planes loaded with drugs into the us and American street gangs to be armed with military grade weapons all the while blaming our second amendment right to bear arms should be arrested IMMEDIATELY.

    How can we expect citizens to follow the rule of law and pay taxes when these masked thugs operate outside of it?

    Where is their honor? Where is the justice for Terry?

  21. WTF is with the garb they’re wearing? Same with the cops nowadays. Everyone’s looking like they are ready for a Zombie fight. Hell, even our military doesn’t get all that crap. Get back into shirts and ties you over zealous war wannabees. This is America!

  22. So what exactly does the ATF do now? Well they operate an illegal program dubbed fast and furious of course..

  23. One thing to add to the timeline:

    From what I’ve read, the fairly sudden switch in focus in 1972, a few years after they got all that authority over guns, was due to the imposition of sugar price supports that made moonshine production uneconomic. So they had all these Revenuers used to dealing with criminals with nothing to do, and rather than downsizing, they sent them after gun shops and owners, which was very much in keeping with the Zeitgeist of the times. And it got so ugly there was real concern they’d wipe out traditional gun culture, which is why the 1986 Firearms Owners Protect Act was so important, and why it was accepted with the Hughes Amendment, the ugly spoiler ban on civilian sales of machine guns made after its passage.

  24. Funny (as in, ironic/curious) that ATF’s focus has become firearms and not alcohol or tobacco. Arguably, there is no constitutionally protected right to booze or tobacco. But there IS a constitutionally protected right to individual ownership of firearms. So sayeth the Constitution, and so sayeth SCOTUS.

    Courts decided, back in the days of Jim Crow, that no tax or other impediment should be raised against the exercise of a constitutional/civil right (back then, the right at issue was voting, and specifically, “allowing” black Americans to vote). And yet when it comes to the exercise of a 2nd Amendment right, we have seen the enactment of endless licensing, taxation, registration, waiting periods, criminal background checks, required filling out of forms, etc., all schemes to impede the exercise of the right to keep and bear arms, and none of which would be tolerated if they were required of a man or woman before they were “permitted” to vote. Interestingly, some of the first gun control laws enacted in this country were drafted at the end of the Civil War, and were meant to keep guns out of the hands of the recently-freed slaves. Slavery didn’t end in 1865. It continues today, the plantation is bigger than ever, and the overseers reside at Foggy Bottom.

    Can you imagine the furor that would arise today if one or more of the states started requiring black voters (or Hispanic voters, or women, or any voters for that matter) to pass a reading test or pay a “poll tax” before they were “allowed” to enter the voting booth?

    In most states, no ID is required to vote, and no criminal record check is run before one is allowed to pull the lever. There’s no waiting period so voters can “cool off” and decide who they really want to vote for. You don’t even have to be able to speak or read English. No one checks a voter’s bona fides to make sure that he/she is actually a U.S. citizen (why, that would be racist!), is a resident of the state and district in which the vote is to be cast, or is otherwise legally entitled to vote.

    The game is rigged, and it’s not rigged in favor of freedom. Witness what has become of freedom and individual liberty in this country just over the past 20 years. Cameras watching over every intersection, drones patrolling the skies, storm troopers groping the crotches of 2 year-olds and 90 year-old grannies in wheelchairs at the airports – the military empowered to indefinitely detain anyone, without a warrant or charges filed, anytime and for no reason.

    We may be able to start to reverse some of this nightmare come November. If we don’t, it may fall to another generation up ahead to figure out that their inheritance has been squandered, and fight to get it back. That fight will not likely be won in elections.

  25. ATF’s role is to harass FFLs and otherwise legal gun owners with mala prohibida (it’s wrong because we say it’s wrong) crimes. Not “hey you shot someone with a shotgun,” but, “hey that shotgun barrel is 17.9999 inches, hello federal prison buddy.”

  26. what i’d like to see instead of anything like ATF is what the founders wanted to see: a well regulated militia of citizens rightly bearing private arms. how about, w/ a magic wand, no more ATF,& instant well regulated militias all over the US, & all the former ATF guys/gals can take their places in the ranks; they’d be valuable assets

  27. Thats what we did as kids find a secluded spot out in the woods where nobody could hearus howling, bring some beer, wine ,whiskey swig it here and there and kick the fire the rest of the night most of the alcohol we drank was 180″proof werent no goin homr for the night

  28. and yes i do agree it should be the alchohol,tobacco and fun department everyone herrded into a large group n a safe place and allowed to have the fun they have longed for— for as long as they can without disruption of the neighbirhood and having a good time doing it untill they all get run off (buzz kill)

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