As suggested by its name, and unlike such agencies
as the Internal Revenue Service and the Drug
Enforcement Administration, the ATF over the years
has been assigned a variety of responsibilities
that are not always obviously connected.
The relative lack of focus is reflected in the
agency's grandly amorphous mission statement: "ATF
is a law enforcement organization within the United
States Department of the Treasury with a unique
combination of responsibilities dedicated to
reducing violent crime, collecting revenue, and
protecting the public."
To deal with these vast challenges the ATF has set
up a multitude of specialized programs. Among them
are the following:
Four special ATF Arson and
Explosives Task Forces offer communities
specialized assistance in the wake of serious
In addition, of course, the ATF is responsible for
the fair and effective collection of federal taxes
levied on alcohol and tobacco products.
The agency's Achilles program
attempts to identify and remove "the most
dangerous, armed career criminal and drug
traffickers from our communities."
A Criminal Firearms Trafficking
Program aims at identifying and prosecuting those
individuals around the country who are illegally
supplying firearms to violent criminals.
A National Tracing Center
assists state and local agencies by tracking the
movement of firearms.
The Youth Crime Gun Interdiction
Initiative (YCGII) seeks to identify and
investigate "the illegal sales of guns to
youth/juveniles and to shut down traffickers" in 27
The goal of a program called
G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training)
is to "decrease gang activity by teaching special
courses" to fourth and seventh graders.
The ATF's Firearms Licensing
Program joins with state and local authorities to
ensure that the 104,855 federal firearms licensees
operate in compliance with all laws.
Yet another program protects
consumers by preventing false or misleading claims
on alcohol beverage labels and identifying and
correcting situations where explosives are
Given the small size of the ATF, only 3,988
employees in 1998, and the vast size of the United
States, the goal of reducing violent crime and
protecting the public against other unnamed dangers
and regulating the tobacco and alcohol industries
is exceedingly ambitious. A summary of possibly
relevant incidents on the ATF Web Site suggests
just how thinly the agency is stretching in
providing useful assistance in just one of the
above programs. From 1991 to 1995, the agency
reported, there were 8,582 bombings and 2,506
incendiary bombings in the U.S.
| ATF at