Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
Frank Bernheisel
Posted 04.26.13
Just Outside Washington


US gun control, or lack of, and the ATF Bureau

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the federal law enforcement organization responsible for the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives. They also are responsible for 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.

ATF is the paramount investigative agency for the Boston bombing and the West, Texas, explosion. They are more specialized and better trained than the FBI and other police/investigative agencies. Some very interesting facts about the ATF:

  • The job of ATF director has required United States Senate confirmation since 2006, but no director has ever been approved, leaving the agency in the hands of acting directors.

  • When a gun is manufactured and sold to an ATF-licensed dealer, the manufacturer makes a record but does not send it to the ATF.

  • There are about 60,000 licensed gun dealers in the U.S.

  • Gun sales by licensed dealers are recorded by hand on ATF Form 4473 and kept at the dealer.

  • When a dealer closes, the forms are boxed up and sent to the ATF gun tracing center in Martinsburg, WV.

  • Last year Martinsburg had 12,000 boxes of old records waiting to be sorted and digitally copied.

  • ATF is prohibited from putting gun ownership records into an easily accessible format, such as a searchable computer database.

  • In a 2003 provision authored by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), Congress prohibited the ATF from requiring dealers to do inventories.

  • Dealers lose track of an enormous number of guns -- since 2005, 3,847 inspections have documented 113,642 guns that cannot be found.

  • In 2004 the Inspector General of DOJ that the ATF had inspected only 2700 (4.5 percent) of U.S. gun dealers and rarely shut one down.

  • ATF has stepped up the pace of inspections, going from 5,000 in 2005 to 11,000 in 2009.

  • On average, the agency revokes or denies renewal of 110 licenses annually and criminally prosecutes only about 10.

  • In 2010 the ATF had 2500 agents, the same number of agents that it had in 1970.
There are a number of websites that are anti-ATF and the ATF have been in a number of screw-ups including Ruby Ridge and the Waco (Branch Davidian siege). The ATF activities that most riles the anti-ATFers seems to be its attempts to control of straw purchasers and gun show purchases. The Senate gun bill that was killed, contained some provisions to address these two issues. Maybe next time.