United States Department of Justice. Its responsibilities include the investigation and prevention of federal offenses involving the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives; acts of arson and bombings; and illegal trafficking and tax evasion of alcohol and tobacco products. The ATF also regulates via licensing the sale, possession, and transportation of firearms, ammunition, and explosives in interstate commerce. Many of the ATF's activities are carried out in conjunction with task forces made up of state and local law enforcement officers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods. The ATF operates a unique fire research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, where full-scale mock-ups of criminal arson can be reconstructed. The agency is led by Regina Lombardo, Acting Director, and Ronald B. Turk, Acting Deputy Director. The ATF has 5,101 employees and an annual budget of $1.274 billion (2019).
The seal of the ATF when it was a part of the U.S. treasury department.
Initial flag of ATF as part of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The ATF was formerly part of the United States Department of the Treasury, having been formed in 1886 as the "Revenue Laboratory" within the Treasury Department's Bureau of Internal Revenue. The history of ATF can be subsequently traced to the time of the revenuers or "revenoors" and the Bureau of Prohibition, which was formed as a unit of the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1920. It was made an independent agency within the Treasury Department in 1927, was transferred to the Justice Department in 1930, and became, briefly, a division of the FBI in 1933.
When the Volstead Act, which established Prohibition in the United States, was repealed in December 1933, the Unit was transferred from the Department of Justice back to the Department of the Treasury, where it became the Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) of the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Special Agent Eliot Ness and several members of The "Untouchables", who had worked for the Prohibition Bureau while the Volstead Act was still in force, were transferred to the ATU. In 1942, responsibility for enforcing federal firearms laws was given to the ATU.
In the early 1950s, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was renamed "Internal Revenue Service" (IRS), and the ATU was given the additional responsibility of enforcing federal tobacco tax laws. At this time, the name of the ATU was changed to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division (ATTD).
In 1968, with the passage of the Gun Control Act, the agency changed its name again, this time to the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Division of the IRS and first began to be referred to by the initials "ATF". In Title XI of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, Congress enacted the Explosives Control Act, 18 U.S.C.A. Chapter 40, which provided for close regulation of the explosives industry and designated certain arsons and bombings as federal crimes. The Secretary of the Treasury was made responsible for administering the regulatory aspects of the new law, and was given jurisdiction over criminal violations relating to the regulatory controls. These responsibilities were delegated to the ATF division of the IRS. The Secretary and the Attorney General were given concurrent jurisdiction over arson and bombing offenses. Pub.L. 91-452, 84 Stat. 922, October 15, 1970.
In 1972 ATF was officially established as an independent bureau within the Treasury Department on July 1, 1972, this transferred the responsibilities of the ATF division of the IRS to the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Rex D. Davis oversaw the transition, becoming the bureau's first director, having headed the division since 1970. During his tenure, Davis shepherded the organization into a new era where federal firearms and explosives laws addressing violent crime became the primary mission of the agency. However, taxation and other alcohol issues remained priorities as ATF collected billions of dollars in alcohol and tobacco taxes, and undertook major revisions of the federal wine labeling regulations relating to use of appellations of origin and varietal designations on wine labels.
In the wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002. In addition to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the law shifted ATF from the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Justice. The agency's name was changed to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. However, the agency still was referred to as the "ATF" for all purposes. Additionally, the task of collection of federal tax revenue derived from the production of tobacco and alcohol products and the regulatory function related to protecting the public in issues related to the production of alcohol, previously handled by the Bureau of Internal Revenue as well as by ATF, was transferred to the newly established Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which remained within the Treasury Department. These changes took effect January 24, 2003.
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