ATF Jurisdiction & Investigative Priorities


The core mission areas for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are trafficking of illegal firearms, criminal organizations and gangs, bombs and explosive devices, and arsons. In order to deploy personnel and resources to investigations and operations regarding these matters, the ATF currently has field offices in the following cities:

  • Washington, D.C.
  • Tampa, FL
  • St. Paul, MN
  • Seattle, WA
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • New York, NY
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Newark, NJ
  • Nashville, TN
  • Miami, FL (serves as head of Caribbean operations)
  • Louisville, KY
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Kansas City, MO
  • Houston, TX
  • Detroit, MI
  • Denver, CO
  • Dallas, TX
  • Columbus, OH
  • Chicago, IL
  • Charlotte, NC
  • Boston, MA
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Atlanta, GA

The ATF also operates through field offices in Canada, Mexico, El Salvador, Iraq and Colombia.

Investigative Priorities

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has two primary responsibilities: protecting the public from the use of illegal firearms and explosives, and the detection and neutralization of national security threats. In order to fulfill these responsibilities, the ATF sustains a nationwide network of investigators and tactical operations units as well as a strong presence in key foreign countries.

The lead official in major investigations and missions is the ATF Special Agent, but these officers may be supported by a host of professionals including intelligence research experts, forensic chemists, investigative auditors or attorneys. Special Agents are authorized to investigate any and all criminal violations of federal law. They are also authorized to take the lead in any investigation involving firearms, explosives, arson or diversion of alcohol and tobacco. ATF Special Agents are fully authorized to use lethal force, make arrests, execute search warrants and make property seizures.

There are a number of primary areas of investigation for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives including:

  • Firearms trafficking—Any illegal transport, sale or distribution of firearms is investigated by the ATF. This includes the misappropriate sales by authorized vendors as well as the design and manufacture of firearms by the firearms industry.
  • Violent crime involving firearms—Any crime in which an offender used a firearm falls under the jurisdiction of the ATF. This may involve investigation of illegally purchased firearms, trafficking from international sources, and gang involvement.
  • Violent crime involving explosives—The use of an explosive device is a serious threat to the public and is handled by the ATF. Using its vast expertise, the ATF manages almost all of the bomb investigations in the U.S. It also regulates and monitors the explosives industry.
  • Gangs and criminal organizations—The ATF is authorized to investigate gang and criminal activity which involves firearms and illegal trafficking. Within the ATF are task forces that are specifically devoted to monitoring and dismantling these criminal organizations.
  • Alcohol and tobacco diversion—Any illegal transport or distribution of tobacco or alcohol is investigated by the ATF.
  • Arson and criminal fires—The ATF is responsible for investigating any arsons or suspicious fires which may involve unusual methods or damaged critical infrastructure. In this capacity, ATF personnel work closely with local fire and police officials.

The ATF also employs a variety of professionals to monitor and regulate the firearms and explosives industries. This includes close evaluation of production schemes and designs to ensure that all firearms and devices are in compliance with federal statutes and regulations. The ATF also regulates the sale and distribution of these products through various approved channels including gun vendors and trade shows. The ATF is authorized to license and screen and gun vendors as well as approve gun registrations and applications.

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