The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesí Investigative Operations at Gun Shows
Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-007
Office of the Inspector General
This review focused on ATF’s policies, procedures, and oversight mechanisms for ATF investigative operations at gun shows. We reviewed ATF’s operations at gun shows conducted from FY 2004 through FY 2006. We conducted fieldwork from September 2006 through March 2007 that included in-person and telephone interviews and site visits to selected ATF field divisions and offices that conducted investigative operations and outreach programs at gun shows, data analyses, document reviews, and viewing undercover footage taken during operations at gun shows. In addition, the OIG team attended gun shows in two different cities.
We conducted interviews with 73 officials and other personnel from ATF Headquarters, 12 field divisions, and 7 field offices; U.S. Attorneys’ Offices; state and local law enforcement agencies; and national organizations representing the firearms industry, gun enthusiasts, and gun show promoters.33 Table 1 lists the sites visited or contacted and the individuals we interviewed. We tried to interview several FFLs, but they were reluctant to speak with us. As a result, we spoke with the senior vice president of the National Sports Shooting Foundation whose subsidiary organization, the National Association of Firearms Retailers, represents approximately 50,000 FFLs.
Table 1: Interviews Conducted by the OIG
|ATF||Headquarters, Washington, D.C.||
| Field Divisions:
| Field and Group Offices:
Falls Church, Virginia
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salt Lake City, Utah
|U.S. Attorneys’ Offices||
Eastern District of Virginia
|State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies||
|National Rifle Association (NRA)||
|National Association of Arms Shows, Inc. (NAAS)||
|National Shooting Sports Foundation||
|Promoters by Location and Trade Name||
Gun Shows Attended
We observed gun shows in Reno, Nevada, on November 18, 2006, and Richmond, Virginia, on December 2, 2006. Both gun shows have an established presence in their regions and occur several times a year. ATF had conducted investigative operations at these gun shows on previous occasions.
Data Analyses and Document Reviews
We reviewed firearms legislation and regulations; ATF’s firearms enforcement policies and procedures; investigative reports; arrest, prosecution, conviction, and gun seizure data; congressional testimony; news articles; and reports related to ATF investigative operations at gun shows, outreach programs, and firearms trafficking. We also reviewed 121 ATF operational plans for operations conducted at gun shows. Table 2 lists the number of operational plans we reviewed in each ATF field division. The plans targeted either specific suspects or general illegal firearms activity at gun shows.
Table 2: Operational Plans Reviewed for
ATF Investigative Operations at Gun Shows
|Field Divisions||“Specific Suspect” Plans Reviewed*||“General Illegal Activity” Plans Reviewed||Total Investigative Operational Plans|
|4. Kansas City||7||0||7|
|5. New Orleans||1||5||6|
|7. San Francisco||0||6||6|
|10. Washington, D.C.||0||10||10|
|*The number of operational plans we reviewed does not necessarily correspond to the number of investigative operations conducted by ATF. Some operations do not require a plan, such as simple surveillance. Other operations may have multiple plans – one for each specific suspect at the same gun show. Two field divisions are not listed. The Baltimore Field Division had no investigative operations at gun shows during our review period, but had conducted outreach programs at gun shows. The Philadelphia Field Division conducted seven operations that were limited to surveillance at gun shows.|
Methodology for Estimating the Number of Annual Gun Shows
ATF does not keep records on the number of gun shows held in the United States, and we were unable to determine an exact number from other sources. We reviewed several estimates of the number of gun shows held annually, which ranged from 2,000 to 5,200. The President of the National Association of Arms Shows was the source of the highest estimate of 5,200 shows and told us that the estimate was based on the assumption that approximately 100 gun shows were held every weekend throughout the year, but, other than professional judgment, no other support was provided for his assumption. Sources for the lower estimate of 2,000 gun shows per year, which included ATF, said they based their estimate on a count of the number of shows advertised in the Gun and Knife Show Calendar, a popular industry trade publication that is published quarterly.
The President of the National Association of Arms Shows told us that the Calendar is the most comprehensive listing of gun shows held throughout the country. We checked the magazine’s issues for FY 2006 and found 1,551 advertisements for shows that included the word “gun” in the advertisement. However, not all shows are advertised in the Calendar, many more shows are now being advertised on the Internet such as on promoter and interest group websites, and some shows are advertised more than once. Because we were unable to determine the exact number of gun shows held per year, in this review we used the most conservative estimate available – 2,000 shows per year or approximately 6,000 shows for the 3-year period that we reviewed, FY 2004 through FY 2006.
ATF’s Comments on the Draft Report
We provided copies of the draft report to ATF for review on May 29, 2007. On June 21, 2007, ATF provided technical clarifications and updated information on certain field office operations described in the report, and we revised the report where appropriate.
One of the 12 divisions did not conduct any investigative operations at gun shows during our review period, but had conducted outreach (educational) programs at gun shows.
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