The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, also known as the BATFE, BATF, or simply ATF, traces its history to the regulation of alcohol, especially following the Volstead Act of 1919. Various government enforcement agencies were combined over the years, resulting in a formalized ATF following the Gun Control Act of 1968.
According to the findings of the 97th Congress Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, increasing sugar prices of the 1970’s resulted in fewer arrests for bootleg liquor. This freed the ATF to pursue gun violations. Over-zealous enforcement of federal gun laws led to the abuse of innocent citizens by the agency. Congressional investigations of these abuses were held in 1979 and 1982, eventually leading to adoption the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986.
Although the term was commonly used by gun enthusiasts of the time, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is often credited with labeling the AFT as a group of “jackbooted government thugs” following the publication of a fund raising letter in 1995. Strongly criticized, the organization’s president later apologized. Gun enthusiasts, however, continue to use the term.
In 2003, the ATF was transferred from the Department of Treasury to the Department of Justice. Since then, ATF atrocities seem to have decreased, but have certainly not ceased. Recent years have seen several abuses by the agency. In Arlington, Va., an innocent grandfather was shot and killed by agents who raided the wrong home. The murdered homeowner was unarmed and no weapons were discovered in the residence. In Cornelius, Ore., ATF agents seized a shop owner’s shipment of airsoft rifles, claiming the popular plastic toys could be converted to fully automatic firearms. Most recently, Congress began another investigation of the agency following reports of an expensive and horribly mismanaged Milwaukee sting operation in which the agency sold illegal weapons to criminals. At least two of these firearms are still unaccounted for.
Law abiding citizens, especially gun owners, have just cause for alarm when regarding this agency. The ATF has a history of heavy handed and unjust enforcement of law against innocent people. Agents appear to be poorly trained, improperly supervised, and often unlawfully aggressive in the execution of their duties. Unless they are reigned in, they will continue to earn the label of Jackbooted Government Thugs.
(Note: Two of the above hotlinks will direct the reader to a blog site containing the complete congressional documents referenced. These government documents are not copyrighted, and are available for purchase in printed form from the Federal Government or private vendors.)