U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is a law enforcement agency within the U.S. Department of the Treasury that enforces Federal laws and regulations relating to alcohol, tobacco, firearms, explosives, and arson. ATF works directly and in cooperation with other agencies to suppress and prevent crime and violence; provide fair and effective industry regulation and revenue collection; support and assist Federal, State, local, and international law enforcement; and provide innovative training programs in support of its functions.
To curb the illegal use of firearms and enforce Federal firearm laws, ATF issues firearms dealers' licenses and conducts firearms licensee qualification and compliance inspections. In addition to aiding the enforcement of Federal requirements for gun purchases, compliance inspections of existing licensees focus on assisting law enforcement to identify and apprehend criminals who illegally purchase firearms. The inspections also help improve the likelihood that crime gun traces will be successful, because inspectors educate licensees in proper recordkeeping and business practices. Compliance inspections target licensees likely to divert firearms from legitimate trade to criminal use and dealers with a history of poor compliance. Investigative priorities focus on armed violent offenders and career criminals, narcotics traffickers, narcoterrorists, violent gang members, and domestic and international arms traffickers. ATF also works with Federal, State, and local law enforcement to target, investigate, and recommend prosecution of armed career criminals and narcotics traffickers; to reduce the level of violent crime; and to enhance public safety.
National Tracing Center
ATF established the National Tracing Center (NTC) as the sole agency responsible for tracing firearms used in crimes and recovered at crime scenes. Firearm tracing is the systematic tracking of firearms from manufacturer to purchaser for the purpose of aiding law enforcement officials in identifying suspects involved in criminal violations, establishing stolen status, and proving ownership. The volume and efficiency of NTC trace operations has increased significantly. In 1997, NTC traced 199,000 crime guns. NTC currently houses more than 100 million firearm records as part of a reference library that identifies firearms, manufacturers, and importers. NTC communicates trace requests to the gun manufacturer, which is required to provide the name of the wholesale/retail distributor and the date of transfer. The chain of wholesale/retail transactions is then followed from the point of sale to an individual citizen. Further tracing is then at the discretion of ATF and dependent on the significance of the individual investigation and the availability of special agent resources.
Project LEAD is an automated data system that tracks illegal firearms. It provides investigative leads to law enforcement by analyzing crime gun trace data and multiple sales information to identify indicators of illegal firearm trafficking.
An illegal firearm trafficking indicator is a factor or circumstance, most often revealed by recurring trends and patterns, that is associated with illegal firearm diversion or sales. Project LEAD allows investigators to identify such indicators, which can then help law enforcement to identify and investigate the most active and prolific illegal firearm traffickers. One such indicator is the "time-to-crime" rate of a firearm. Time-to-crime is the period of time (measured in days) between a firearm's retail sale and law enforcement's recovery of the firearm in connection with a crime. A short time-to-crime rate usually means the firearm will be easier to trace, and when several short time-to-crime traces involve the same individual/Federal firearm licensee, illegal trafficking activity is highly probable.
The comprehensive tracing of all recovered crime-related firearms in an area experiencing high rates of armed crimes can identify individuals who are illegally trafficking firearms to violent criminals, gang offenders, and in particular, to juveniles and youth.
Integrated Ballistics Identification System
The Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS) has been implemented by NTC. IBIS is a computer identification system that correlates and matches projectile and shell casing ballistic evidence. A unique comparison system allows firearm technicians to digitize and sort bullet and shell casings at a greatly accelerated rate, and to maintain a national data base that quickly assimilates local law enforcement evidence. Now, local law enforcement can fire a recovered weapon and enter digitized information from the bullet that will provide "fingerprint" evidence for all other bullets fired from it. When a suspect is linked to a gun, IBIS can quickly determine if bullets fired from that gun can be linked to other crimes. With every recovered gun, projectile, or shell casing, the data base and the potential for individual criminal prosecution grow.
Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative
The Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative (YCGII) is a component of ATF's illegal gun trafficking enforcement program. Begun in July 1996 in 17 cities, YCGII seeks to reduce the illegal supply of firearms to juveniles, youth, and adult criminals. Police departments participating in the program agree to trace all recovered crime guns and to collaborate with ATF in investigations of trafficking. ATF assists the departments in developing electronic tracing capability and provides training in tracing and trafficking interdiction. ATF's Crime Gun Analysis Branch also provides each participating community with a standardized analysis of the crime guns recovered and traced from that jurisdiction. Twenty-seven communities participate in YCGII, and ATF expects to expand the program in the next few years. ATF and local law enforcement are investigating and arresting illegal gun traffickers by using comprehensive trace information and traditional investigative methods.
Gang Resistance Education and Training
ATF's Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program is designed to help children set goals for themselves, resist negative peer pressure, learn how to resolve conflicts without violence, and understand how gangs and youth violence affect the quality of their lives. G.R.E.A.T. students discover for themselves the ramifications of gang and youth violence through structured exercises and interactive approaches to learning.
G.R.E.A.T. curriculums reach third/fourth-grade and fifth/sixth-grade students. To date, thousands of law enforcement officers from hundreds of agencies throughout the United States, Canada, Guam, and Puerto Rico, and military personnel from overseas bases in Japan and Germany have been trained to present the core curriculum in elementary, middle, and junior high school classrooms. The estimated cumulative number of students who have received the G.R.E.A.T. program exceeds 1.5 million.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms