The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is currently a law enforcement agency within the United States Justice Department (DOJ). The ATF (originally known as the Bureau of Prohibition) was born in 1920 as a result of Prohibition, where they operated as part of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Internal Revenue (known today as the IRS). The Bureau of Prohibition was transferred to the Justice Department (DOJ) in 1930 and was briefly a division of the FBI in 1933. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the Bureau of Prohibition was moved back to the Department of the Treasury from the DOJ, where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU).
The ATU was given additional responsibilities resulting in multiple name changes and department shifts over the next fortyish years. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was officially established as an independent bureau within the Treasury Department in 1972. After 9/11, President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which shifted the ATF back to the DOJ, where “Explosives” was added to the end of their Agency name. This is the ATF that we know today.
Reviewing this brief history of the ATF, we can see that this federal agency has a long history of being passed back and forth between the Treasury Department and the DOJ. The fact that the ATF began as an agency under the IRS and operated under the Department of Treasury for the majority of its existence sets off some red flags. While it may operate under the DOJ now, it is my opinion that the ATF is an outdated, ineffective, unneeded federal agency with a controversial, scandal-ridden past that is a waste of taxpayer money. If you’re unaware of the long history of ATF scandals, I’ll highlight a few of the most egregious offenses, and you can decide for yourself whether your tax dollars should continue to fund this federal agency.
From 2006 through 2011, the Arizona Field Office of the ATF ran a series of sting operations conducted under the umbrella of “Project Gunrunner.” During these sting operations, the ATF allowed and monitored the sales of 2,000 firearms to illegal straw buyers with the goal of tracking those guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arresting them. Essentially, the ATF willingly and knowingly allowed these firearms to fall into the hands of cartel members. Not only did the ATF fail miserably at tracking and retrieving these guns (only 710 of 2,000 were recovered as of February 2012) but they also failed to capture any high-level cartel members – the entire goal of the operation.
In fact, in 2010 US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed by one of these weapons. Upon further investigation, it was also determined that the deaths of 150 Mexican civilians were related to the firearms “monitored” by ATF in this project. It seems this project was a complete and utter failure – they got no high-level cartel arrests and many innocent people were killed as a result.
If you aren’t aware of the Waco situation that resulted in the deaths of innocent women and children at the hands of the ATF, or the Ruby Ridge situation which ended the lives of Randy Weaver’s wife and 14-year-old son, I highly implore you to check out the 2018 Waco miniseries as well as the Ruby Ridge documentary. I could write an essay about each of these complete failures of justice and due process on the ATF’s part, but I’ll leave you with this tidbit – the Weaver family was paid $3.1 million by the DOJ in compensation. 3.1 million dollars of your taxpayer money was paid to Mr. Weaver after the ATF killed his innocent wife and son. You *literally* paid to fund their programs and then you compensated families of victims of the ATF’s crimes.
Seeing that the ATF has been involved in a long history of scandals that have put them under congressional scrutiny, it is hard to see the reason this agency needs to continue to exist and eat up taxpayer money. Per the ATF, they “protect our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products.”
The ATF Elimination Act was introduced to Congress in January 2017 by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. The bill would disband the ATF and split its responsibilities between the FBI and the DEA. The ATF’s mission often clashes with the FBI, as the FBI does considerable work as a federal law enforcement agency in the areas of guns, explosives, violent crime, criminal organizations, and terrorism. Sensenbrenner argued that “by absorbing the ATF into existing law enforcement entities, we can preserve the areas where the ATF adds value for substantially less taxpayer money.”
Unfortunately, the ATF Elimination Act hasn’t been given much attention since February 2017. Seeing that President Biden recently nominated David Chipman as the ATF director, I think there is an opportunity for the reemergence and renewed support of the ATF Elimination Act. Putting David Chipman at the head of the ATF would only perpetuate the never-ending scandals attached to ATF – Mr. Chipman was an agent heavily involved in the Waco siege and has been caught publicly lying about the events of Waco and the actions of the Branch Davidians during the siege. It is long past time to Abolish the ATF. We cannot allow this federal agency to continue its abuses, threats to the second amendment, and heinous disregard for American lives – all funded by you and me, the taxpayer.