Should the ATF Merge with the FBI?

2nd Amendment – R2KBA Authors S.H. Blannelberry This Week
ATF Agents.  Should the ATF merge into the FBI?  (Photo:  Fox40)

ATF Agents. Should the ATF merge into the FBI? (Photo: Fox40)

The Center for American Progress released an almost 200-page document arguing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should merge with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Basically, the authors of the report start out by acknowledging what we all know to be true about the ATF, it’s an incompetent federal agency with a history of scandal and gross mismanagement, from the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993 to the more recent fatally flawed gun-running program known as Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF has not been the shinning star of federal law enforcement.

To fix the dysfunctional agency, the authors say that it should be subsumed by the FB for three principal reasons:

Resources and Independence.

As a result of pressure by the gun lobby, ATF’s budget has stagnated, rendering it hard-pressed to fulfill even its most basic functions. For example, the agency previously set a goal of conducting compliance inspections of gun dealers at least once every five years. Yet, as the report describes, the agency has never been able to meet this goal because of insufficient resources to hire inspectors, leading it to abandon the goal entirely. In addition, ATF has been hamstrung by more than a dozen appropriations riders that severely limit its ability to regulate the gun industry.


One of ATF’s great strengths is its ability to partner with local law enforcement to combat gun crime. However, coordination at the federal level has been more challenging. ATF and the FBI share jurisdiction over violent crime enforcement and both agencies operate violent crime and gang task forces across the country. The FBI also operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, conducting background checks for gun sales and referring cases of attempted illegal purchases to ATF for investigation – while ATF operate the gun tracing database for tracking illegal guns. But, the databases are not connected and the relationship between the agencies on gun and explosives enforcement has more often been characterized by competition than cooperation.


In addition to the vacuum in the director’s position, ATF struggles with leadership challenges at every level. The agency simply lacks the usual oversight mechanisms and management controls present in most police agencies and struggles to control the operations in the field. We’ve seen symptoms of these management challenges in recent years with a number of high-profile missteps, such as Operation Fast and Furious.

It’s an interesting argument that is thoroughly analyzed but one that is ultimately misguided. What it all boils down to is money. The Center for American Progress wants to create a bigger FBI and give the federal government more money to enforce gun regulations and restrictions in the hope that it will reduce gun-related crime. While in theory that makes sense, in practice — with an Obama White House — it has a parochial effect in that it really only effects law-abiding gun owners, gun dealers and gun manufacturers.

As the National Rifle Association pointed out, “The Obama administration has only contributed to ATF’s dysfunction by politicizing the agency to implement its gun-control agenda,” said NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.

“Regardless of where ATF is located, the reality is that nothing will change until we have a president who respects the Second Amendment,” she added.

True enough. A fish rots from the head down. And when you have an anti-gunner in the White House, one can expect each agency to be imbued with that sentiment.  To give you a recent example, the ATF’s attempted ban on M855.  What the hell was the point of that?  To reduce crime?  Or to make in more difficult for responsible gun owners to purchase ammo?  Confused about the answer?  Just ask yourself when was the last time you heard of a criminal using green tips in the commission of a crime.

But putting that aside, with the DHS, FBI, Customs, Border Patrol, CIA, etc., do we really need a larger government apparatus enforcing the law? How many more billions of taxpayer dollars do we need to spend before the federal government specifically targets those responsible for the vast majority of violent, gun-related crime: drug dealers and gangsters?

The ATF’s annual budget is around $1.1 billion. The FBI’s annual budget is around $8 billion. That’s a lot of money. To increase funding to either one of these agencies would be throwing good money after bad. We know who to target. We certainly have the money and resources to do so. The real question is why we are failing to get them off the streets?

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  • Boomer Taylor March 26, 2017, 4:10 am

    The ATF should have been abolished long ago. The tasks are duplicitous with the FBI and they often trip over each other, or don’t know what the other is doing on the same tasks, at any given time.
    The amount of money the taxpayers would be saved would be in the millions, if not billions, long term, by merging the two and removing the redundancies and streamlining the red tape machine and eliminate a large number of employees. There should be no debate about it. It’s just a matter of people not wanting to give up power combined with the fear of what eliminating a government entity and all that implies as to starting a trend of losing power, such as the completely outlived and destructive board of education, for one.
    Until the American people stand up for themselves and realize they don’t need the government to hold their hand and keep them depending on government to guide and subsidize their lives, we have no hope of realizing our potential and becoming a truly independent nation. The amout of long term, sustainable resores we posess is beyond the scope of most ppeople’so vision. Using our own oil (leaving it in the ground is, essentially, the same as running out tof soon. We have enough oil and technology to last us well beyond the life expectancy of internal combustion locomotion.
    But I digress…
    Personal responsibility is a dying ideal in this country and we’re heading towards the same fate as France, Greece and other countries in which the people demand the government pay for everything. The “nanny state” keeps its power by enslaving it’s population with welfare and entitlement programs and tries to make more where, instead, it should be weaning the people from the government teet… Starting with eliminating the ATF, then moving to the next albatross.
    God bless us all.

  • Pseudo August 5, 2016, 4:37 pm

    Who was it who uttered something like this, “what difference does it make now?” After the latest comments from the FBI and their “Hillary excuse.” For ineptness and incompetence I see no difference. Neither one is anything but a bogus puppet agency.

  • Isreal Varela November 5, 2015, 9:19 pm

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  • jmg169 May 28, 2015, 10:06 am

    Skip the merger of organizations, and figure out what the actual mission of ATF is, then figure out if those functions could best be performed by another LE agency, or tax collection organization.

    We already have an FBI that (usually) does a decent job of investigation and law enforcement, and we already have an IRS that is quite efficient at collecting taxes (conservative targeting notwithstanding). Incompetence and bureaucracy aside, why can’t those two groups pick up the functions of ATF, and then we can wind down ATF and their associated overhead? Does the alcoholic beverage industry really care who they write the check to? A tax stamp is a tax stamp is a tax stamp.

  • jmg169 May 28, 2015, 10:05 am

    Skip the merger of organizations, and figure out what the actual mission of ATF is, then figure out if those functions could best be performed by another LE agency, or tax collection organization.

    We already have an FBI that (usually) does a decent job of investigation and law enforcement, and we already have an IRS that is quite efficient at collecting taxes (conservative targeting notwithstanding). Incompetence and bureaucracy aside, why can’t those two groups pick up the functions of ATF, and then we can wind down ATF and their associated overhead? Does the alcoholic beverage industry really care who they write the check to? A tax stamp is a tax stamp is a tax stamp.

  • Thor May 27, 2015, 12:22 pm

    What’s all this BS about “databases”?? When you go to buy a firearm from a retailer they charge you to run a “NICS” check which is supposed to take less than 30 minutes and the information regarding the potential buyer is then deleted–no database or backdoor registration. The only “registration” is in some gun grabber cities/states like California, Chicago, Mass, etc. It is specifically banned in other states. So what databases are the FBI or BATF using? Could it be that we are being lied to???

  • Bisley May 26, 2015, 10:11 pm

    ATF was originally an agency of the Treasury to collect taxes on alcohol and tobacco; it has grown into a police force to enforce arbitrary, nonsensical laws, mostly for political purposes. It needs to be eliminated, along with most of the federal laws pertaining to manufacture, sales and possession of firearms (which seem to exist mainly to hassle everyone involved, and work toward the elimination of privately owned arms). Any real crime will be dealt with by state and local law enforcement, the feds have no business being involved.

  • John Conrick May 26, 2015, 9:57 pm

    Just disband the ATF. They are corrupt and we should not infect the FBI with their disease.

  • listentothis May 26, 2015, 3:01 pm 2 senators want to eliminate the BATF and with good reasons. The point is we do not need the BATF when we already have the FBI and the DEA. The only thing the BATF is being used for is to be used as a tool to create laws out of thin air and the enforce them bypassing the checks and balance system. Further more the if the BATF mergers with the FBI I understand more civil rights will be violated since everything the government does is to grow more powerful everyday. We should not let the BATF merge! Instead we need sponsor the senator’s bill and call your local senators about eliminating the BATF. There are enough angry progun owners to do it if we do not give up. Anything else is futile because there are no checks and balances for the BATF. Calling senators should be every progun owners number 1 agenda. Start making shirts for sell at the gun shows instructing people to do this with links, etc. We have to get organized and make the thoughts spread like a virus. We do not need to waste this opportunity. We need to encourage other gun owners to do these things listed above. We are what we think about, if we do not speak up what kind of nation are we besides a bunch of brain washed idiots by liberals through the main stream media.

  • George May 26, 2015, 11:17 am

    Whistleblowers have revealed that the FBI has persistently and knowingly fabricated evidence to suit prosecutors’ cases. The FBI’s participation in the murder of the Branch Davidians is known to anyone who has watched “Waco: A New Revelation.” Cointelpro anyone? The latest? The FBI finds a patsy, gins up the patsy to some “terror,” provides material and expertise to the patsy, busts the patsy, and then preens itself before lapdog media, patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Housecleaning is long overdue.

    • Damon May 26, 2015, 6:20 pm

      Agreed. I watched the Waco documentary. Watching the heli-mounted IR footage of persons (either ATF or FBI personnel) firing incendiary devices into a building that they had just filled with flammable vapor brought home what I had always suspected – that, just as in Ruby Ridge, the Feds chose to murder American citizens, for reasons of their own, and without due process of law.

  • Mahatma Muhjesbude May 26, 2015, 9:46 am

    The BATF should NOT be ‘re-integrated’ to add more ‘belly fat’ to a similar agency. It should be dismantled and shut down. There is no longer any pragmatic justification– both financially or functionally– for an agency whose job description and functions can be easily replicated and replaced by local municipalities and law enforcement.

    In fact, most county Sheriff’s departments already. have all the necessary training and equipment to handle anything regarding firearms and explosives. The BATF is simply a government pork barrel redundancy which wastes its time harassing the gun owning citizens and small firearms businesses who ironically pay for the agent’s exorbitant salaries and expensive hardware with their tax dollars. The ATF is an insult to the injuries of our Constitutional Liberty which exists only for the real purpose of doing all in its ‘power’ erode the 2nd Amendment!

    If you really subscribe to government reform by reducing fraudulent expenditures. And if you value your Privacy and Liberty …Elimitating the BATF is a good pace to start. Call your Congressman today and tell them that right after they vote next week to BAN bulk spying and data collection on ALL Americans, And they better really do that… they should vote on closing down the BATFE. Period.

  • Bryan Johnson May 26, 2015, 9:02 am

    Although I agree with John McPherson that ATF belongs back in Treasury, where it served its original mandate as a tax-gathering agency, it seems a little late to fix the problem with just an organizational shuffle. The culture of the ATF has been shown, time and time again, to be subject to the temptation to go “cowboy” (with apologies to real ranch hands) rather than show basic regard for laws and even regulations. The tendency of any large government to concentrate power has led to the creation of the DHS; at this point, where the exact lines on the table of organization lead is less important than the mindset of the leadership in ATF and the Executive Branch as a whole.

  • D Hicks May 26, 2015, 8:41 am

    John I agree with you. The ATF is for collecting TAXES

  • El Mac May 26, 2015, 8:28 am

    Never happen. The FBI does not want the ATF. Congress would have to force the issue over FBI protests.

  • John McPherson May 26, 2015, 8:04 am

    The ATF should remain as the administrating agency, but not the enforcement agency. Linking the two functlions together results in a concentration of power that we see is overreaching at times. Thus, allowing the FBI to write the rules would be the same problem. Congress passes the laws and the ATF then writes the rules necessary to enforce the intent of congress. But that does not mean they should enforce them, just write the rules. Imagine your local police force both writing the laws and enforcing them. Put ATF back under Treasury.

  • WilliamDahl May 26, 2015, 3:28 am

    The very existence of the ATF is completely unconstitutional since their sole purpose is to INFRINGE upon our 2nd Amendment rights.

    • Steve May 27, 2015, 12:54 am

      Starting with Ruby Ridge, every time ATF has pulled some jack-booted thug stunt, the FBI has been called upon to clean up the mess. As publicity conscious as the FBI is, I am pretty sure they would set down hard on this cluster of yahoos & cowboys. I have worked with these folks, and found the rank and file agents to be helpful and competent, but their management is populated by political sycophants, zealots, and fools. The original goal of the civil service system was to eliminate political patronage and the political appointment of ignorant fools to head agencies about which they had not even a nodding acquaintance.

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