15 Sep 23

The ATF and Prosecuting Federal Gun Crimes and Violations

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Last Updated on: 16th September 2023, 08:21 pm

The ATF and Prosecuting Federal Gun Crimes and Violations

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing federal laws and regulations related to firearms. The ATF works to reduce violent crime involving firearms through enforcement, regulation, and community outreach. This includes investigating and prosecuting individuals who violate federal gun laws.

ATF’s Role in Gun Crime Enforcement

The ATF has jurisdiction over violations of federal firearms laws, including illegal possession or transfer of firearmsgun trafficking, and violent crimes involving firearms. The ATF works with local, state, and other federal law enforcement agencies to investigate and build cases against individuals suspected of violating federal gun laws.Some of the major federal gun crimes the ATF prosecutes include:

  • Possession of a firearm by a prohibited person – It is illegal under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g) for certain categories of individuals to possess firearms, including felons, domestic abusers, unlawful users of controlled substances, and individuals who have been adjudicated as mentally defective or committed to a mental institution.
  • Trafficking firearms – Under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(1)(A), it is illegal to engage in the business of dealing firearms without a federal firearms license. Trafficking involves illegally transferring firearms from legal markets to prohibited individuals.
  • Transferring a firearm to a prohibited person – It is illegal to knowingly transfer a firearm to a prohibited person under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d). This includes straw purchases done on behalf of a prohibited person.
  • Possession of an unregistered firearm – The National Firearms Act requires the registration of certain types of firearms, such as machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers. Possession of an unregistered NFA firearm is punishable under 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d).

The ATF uses a variety of investigative techniques to build firearms cases, including tracing guns recovered at crime scenes, undercover operations, confidential informants, surveillance, and analysis of gun sales records. ATF agents and investigators work closely with federal prosecutors to bring charges against violators.

Key Federal Gun Laws

There are several major federal firearms laws and regulations that form the basis for ATF’s enforcement efforts:

  • National Firearms Act of 1934 – Imposes strict registration requirements and taxes on certain types of firearms, like machine guns and silencers. Also regulates firearm sales and transfers.
  • Federal Firearms Act of 1938 – Required all manufacturers and dealers of firearms to obtain a federal firearms license (FFL) and created penalties for transferring firearms to prohibited persons.
  • Gun Control Act of 1968 – Established the modern federal licensing system for firearm dealers and prohibited certain categories of people from possessing firearms. Also regulated interstate firearm sales.
  • Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 – Reformed parts of the Gun Control Act, like interstate sales and record keeping. Limited ATF inspections of gun dealers.
  • Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 – Required background checks for all firearm purchases from licensed dealers. Led to the creation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
  • Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 – Banned the manufacture and possession of certain semi-automatic assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Expired in 2004.

In addition to these major federal laws, there are also many ATF regulations that govern the gun industry and sales of firearms and ammunition. Violating these regulations can result in criminal prosecution.

Gun Tracing and Tracking

A critical component of the ATF’s law enforcement mission is tracing guns recovered at crime scenes to identify gun traffickers and patterns of illegal gun sales.

  • When a gun is recovered by law enforcement, they can submit a trace request to the ATF’s National Tracing Center.
  • Tracing starts with the manufacturer, then goes to the wholesaler/distributor, retailer, and first unlicensed purchaser of the firearm.
  • Tracing can help connect a crime gun to a federally licensed gun dealer involved in illegal sales and identify potential straw purchasers.
  • In 2021, the ATF processed over 500,000 trace requests. This tracing data is used to detect in-state, interstate, and international patterns in the sources and kinds of crime guns.
  • Tracing data and firearm recovery reports are useful for identifying trends and crafting interventions to reduce gun violence.

ATF Regulation of Federal Firearms Licensees

The ATF is responsible for regulating the approximately 60,000 Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) in the United States. This includes:

  • Issuing and renewing FFL licenses to gun dealers, manufacturers, importers, collectors, and pawnbrokers
  • Conducting firearms licensee qualification investigations
  • Performing compliance inspections of gun dealer records and inventory
  • Identifying and correcting violations through warning letters, license revocations, fines, and license denials
  • Referring willful violations that involve illegal sales to prohibited persons for criminal prosecution

FFLs must comply with laws and regulations governing proper license application procedures, record keeping, reporting requirements, license fees, security measures, sales and transfers of firearms including background checks, etc.