Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

What a place to work, right? Have a few drinks, smoke a stogie, fire off some rounds, and blow some things up – just another day at the office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Well, not exactly – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

The ATF’s job is to make sure that if your workday does involve serving alcohol, selling cigarettes, or making stuff go boom, you do it safely and legally. More specifically, the agency investigates and attempts to prevent criminal offenses and violent acts involving all these things. That means working to perfect gun-control regulations, keeping an eye on violent gangs, investigating arms traffickers, tracking down contraband, and even conducting fire research.

The bureau keeps pretty busy: in 2010 it recommended 17,893 cases for prosecution, processed more than 800,000 firearms registrations and transfers, and trained more than 400 military dogs in bomb-sniffing. Its methods have sometimes come into question, however – particularly “Operation Fast and Furious,” a sting designed to trace the flow of illegal weapons to Mexico.

The ATF doesn’t just pursue violators. It’s also dedicated to encouraging the legitimate use and trade of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms. Its personnel oversee their licensing, sale, possession, and transportation across state lines.

In addition, the bureau tries to ensure that your Fourth of July celebration doesn’t put you in the hospital. Every year it seizes illegal explosives such as M-80s, M-250s and M-1000s (or “Quarter Sticks”) that could have a much more tragic effect on your backyard fireworks show than a mere rainstorm.

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