ATF BadgeYou’d think the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which is reflexively anti-gun and particularly hostile to noncriminal gun owners, would be a natural ally of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (still so-called despite losing much explosives authority to the FBI some years ago). But the J-S has reported extensively on ATF conduct in its own circulation area, and it’s fair to say they’ve soured a bit on the agency. Enough so that they don’t sweep things under the rug, unlike most of the pro-gun-ban press. For instance, they recently reported on how a failed ATF sting not only put a full-auto M4 in the hands of local criminals (where it still is, despite ATF’s haphazard attempts to find it), but now misconduct by ATF Special Agent Jacqueline Sutton is causing the US Attorney and Milwaukee County DA to abandon the sting’s prosecutions against real criminals, including drug dealers and felons with guns in possession. Sutton, who mismanaged the “Operation Fearless” sting that imploded last year, has received the usual punishment for misconduct in the ATF: promotion to a better-paying gig in Washington headquarters. The criminals who accepted plea bargains are out of luck, they stay in prison; their buddies who held out for trial go free.

The latest revelation from the J-S’s John Diedrich: it isn’t just gun owners, Milwaukee’s US and State prosceuting attorneys, and some of the judges in the area. The FBI, too, no longer trusts the ATF, even to do its own fundamental activity, gun traces. After the Washington Navy Yard shooting, FBI agents bypassed the ATF and traced the shooter’s shotgun themselves:

It’s not clear yet how the FBI beat the ATF to the northern Virginia gun shop where Aaron Alexis, 34, bought a Remington 870 Express shotgun and about two dozen shells 48 hours before the shooting.

ATF veterans were stunned by the news.

“I have never seen an instance where ATF had not been relied upon to trace the gun,” said Mike Bouchard, a former ATF assistant director for field operations, according to an Associated Press report.  “I have never heard of a situation like that.”

If former ATF agents were astounded by the FBI’s end-around their agency, current ATF spox SA Ginger Colbrun was in full-on butthurt. She whinged:

“ATF is the sole federal agency that is authorized to conduct firearms tracing…. to trace a firearm for a law enforcement agency involved in a bona fide criminal investigation.”

Good luck with that when other agencies have no faith in you. 


Maybe the FBI are just bigfooting the case, something the Bureau has a reputation for. But maybe the investigators just don’t want any case that develops to evaporate because of the misconduct of ATF agents or (more likely, given the history) managers.

According to another report, ATF completed its trace anyway and forwarded its results to the FBI — a day or more after pro-active FBI agents, and well-connected DC media for that matter, already had the answers.

It’s unlikely that any criminal case will come out of this trace, a rare case where a criminal bought a gun explicitly for an imminent crime (suicides often buy a guy once they make their decision, but criminals usually acquire guns from clandestine sources, or well in advance). The gun shop appears to have complied with all state and Federal laws; the actual criminal is dead as lead, which makes prosecuting him somewhat moot. But what will come out of this is further strained relations between ATF agents and their Bureau peers.

This entry was posted in Lord Love a Duck on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

9 thoughts on “Don’t trust ATF? Neither does the FBI.

Tom Schultz

ATF ‘lost’ a lot of guns. Lately is was reported that somehow they “lost” 4 Million + cigarettes.

I am now keeping my eye on ads for some really cheap booze. Given their track record I should be able to get my hands on several million gallons of tax free Jack Daniels for about $2.00 a barrel.


That’s why the were once called F Troop!!


Any chance you could do an article with a chronological listing of ATF SNAFUs? Whenever you write about the agency, you always seem to mention some screw-up that I hadn’t heard of before.

Hognose Post author

Eh, I don’t know if I want to be the Boswell to that particular stepped-on Johnson.


What, surely the ATF wouldn’t be so petty that they would attempt to harm someone on the internet just because they documented their failures. Oh, right, wait.

Yeah, fair enough.

Hognose Post author

ISTR two clauses of the “secret” settlement with Red’s Gun SHop over paperwork violations were that the shop (1) front for ATF stings forever; and (2) remove all criticism of ATF, its agents and inspectors from the corporation’s and the owner’s blogs. It is plausible that the criticism, ot the paperwork, was their target all along.


Dissolve the ATF. They can no longer be trusted. While you are at it, file criminal charges against Holder.

Hognose Post author

Nobody who reads this blog has executive authority to do these things. Unless the President is really bored and going through the reams of stuff NSA brings him.


Dollar to a DoNut that they searched Alexis’ pad and came up with the bill-of-sale for the 870, and just went to the shop and asked for the 4473. Sometimes it’s easy.