April 19, 2012 What exactly is the ATF and how did they get here? Filed under: History — Tags: ATF, history of the ATF — CTD Suzanne Like this article? CLICK HERE to get stories like this, useful tips, and valuable resources every other Sunday in your e-mail inbox. 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. An ATF agent.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. Everybody loves this t-shirt.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.