The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosivesí Investigative Operations at Gun Shows

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2007-007
June 2007
Office of the Inspector General

Scope and Methodology of the OIG Review

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

Organization Site Individuals Interviewed
ATF Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
  • Assistant Director, Office of Field Operations
  • Deputy Assistant Directors, Office of Field Operations (one Regional and one for Industry Operations)
  • Deputy Chief, Field Management Staff, Office of Field Operations
  • Senior Counsel, Office of Field Operations
  • Associate Chief Counsel, Disclosure and Forfeiture Division, Office of Chief Counsel
  • Associate Chief Counsel, Firearms, Explosives and Arson Division, Office of Chief Counsel
  • Senior Attorney, Firearms, Explosives and Arson Division, Office of Chief Counsel
  • Deputy Assistant Director, Office of Enforcement Programs and Services
  • Acting Deputy Chief, Firearms Programs Division, Office of Enforcement Programs and Services
  • Firearms Industry Technical Advisor, Firearms Programs Division, Office of Enforcement Programs and Services
  • Chief, Office of Public Affairs
Field Divisions:
New Orleans
San Francisco
Washington, D.C.
  • Current and former Special Agents in Charge (SAC) (11)
  • Assistant Special Agents in Charge (ASAC) (8)
  • Directors of Industry Operations (5)
  • Field Division Counsel (2)
Field and Group Offices:
Falls Church, Virginia
McAllen, Texas
New Orleans, Louisiana
Norfolk, Virginia
Reno, Nevada
Richmond, Virginia
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Current and former Resident Agents in Charge (RAC) (7)
  • Group Supervisors (2)
  • Area Supervisor
  • Special Agents (2)
  • Intelligence Research Specialist
U.S. Attorneys’ Offices



Eastern District of Louisiana

Eastern District of Virginia

  • Deputy Chief, Criminal Division, Phoenix Office
  • Assistant U.S. Attorney, Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, Tucson Office

  • Chief, Reno Office

  • 1st Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief, Criminal Division
  • Violent Crime Unit Supervisor

  • Managing Assistant U.S. Attorney, Richmond Division
State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies

Richmond, Virginia

Reno, Nevada

  • Major, Virginia State Police
  • Manager, Firearms Transaction Center, Virginia State Police
  • Sergeant, Virginia State Police
  • Major, City of Richmond Police Department
  • Deputy Chief of Police, Henrico County Division of Police
  • Captain, Henrico County Division of Police

  • Assistant Sheriff, Washoe County
National Rifle Association (NRA)

Fairfax, Virginia

  • Legal Counsel, NRA-Institute for Legislative Action
National Association of Arms Shows, Inc. (NAAS)


  • President (who also is the promoter of Crossroads of the West gun shows)
National Shooting Sports Foundation

Newtown, Connecticut

  • Senior Vice President and General Counsel
Promoters by Location and Trade Name

North Carolina
West Virginia

  • Big Reno Show
  • C&E Gun Shows
  • Crossroads of the West (who also is the President of the NAAS)
  • Missouri Valley Arms Collectors Association
  • Saxet Trade Shows
  • Showmasters
  • Southern Gun and Knife Shows

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
1.   Charlotte 17 0 17
2.   Columbus 5 4 9
3.   Houston 12 2 14
4.   Kansas City 7 0 7
5.   New Orleans 1 5 6
6.   Phoenix 21 15 36
7.   San Francisco 0 6 6
8.   Seattle 7 0 7
9.   Tampa 9 0 9
10. Washington, D.C. 0 10 10
Total Reviewed 79 42 121
*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.

  1. 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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