The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives started as a division of the Internal Revenue Service, tasked with collecting taxes and enforcing federal alcohol regulations. After the 1934 Firearms Act, they were charged with enforcement of that law as well. One of the agency’s most well-known agents during its early days was Eliot Ness, whose career was dramatized in The Untouchables television series with lifelong shooter Robert Stack, and later as a big screen movie with Kevin Costner.
While the ATF has been tasked with enforcing federal explosives laws for decades, the “and Explosives” wasn’t officially added to the ATF’s title until after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. As part of the 2002 Homeland Security Act, the now renamed BATFE had its administration moved from the Treasury Department to the Department of Justice, with an expanded mission including fighting terrorism.
Although many gun owners only see the BATFE as a group dedicated to restricting their rights and making their lives more difficult, the truth is that most of the ATF field agents are gun owners themselves. They understand that as America’s “Gun Cops” they have a responsibility to both uphold the nation’s gun laws in the face of an explosion of inner city violence, without treading wholesale on individual rights.
The GLOCK Connection
Todd Kennedy is a former Secret Service Agent who is now Firearms Training Manager of the ATF’s National Academy in Brunswick, GA. No slouch behind the sights himself, Kennedy recently finished as Top “A” Class against more than 150 shooters in the USPSA Limited-10 match. As a tactical and competitive shooter, Agent Kennedy recognized the value of methods and tactics employed by some of the World’s top competitive shooters, so he decided to “go to school” so he could to bring these methods to the men he sends into the field.
Dave Sevigny is Team Glock’s superstar and an Atlanta resident. Over the years Kennedy has turned to Dave to polish up his handgun skills, and when he told Dave he wanted to expand his Academy training to include competition handgun, rifle and shotgun techniques, Dave recommended Kennedy get in touch with his former Glock teammate and possibly the one of the best Tactical Class Multi-Gun shooter ever—Taran Butler.
Butler’s resume as a competition shooter is impressive: five-time World Tactical Class 3-gun Champion including the match at the AMU (Army Marksmanship Unit) Matches at Fort Bragg, and the first shooter with four Grand Master Cards (in Limited, Open, Limited 10 and Production) but his skills as an instructor are even more impressive than his trophies.
Kennedy and two colleagues, Thomas Lindsey, the formerly of the ATF Academy and now Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Oakland Field Office, and a mutual friend, a producer of police products, flew into Los Angeles and headed to Butler’s range to get schooled in the “way of the 3-gun.” What they learned in that week was that shooting under the timer can be as stressful as a real street shootout.
While success in any shooting sport or combat situation requires the mastery of a certain baseline skill set—sight alignment, trigger control, follow through—the weapons used by law enforcement agents and combat competitors alike each have specific aspects that have been uncovered in the heat of competition and can be used to bring acceptable field performance to another level. Butler boils his shooting success down to three factors: AIM. MOVE. RELOAD.
The rifle that dominates action shooting is the AR-15 platform in 5.56x45mm, and for the same reason it excels as a patrol rifle: Low recoil allows faster, more accurate follow-up shots. Pistol grip ergonomics allow the operator to maintain a shooting grip during reloading. The ATF agents showed up with their issue selective fire Colt M4 carbines.
The key to success in 3-gun rifle competition, and therefore real world firefights, is the absolute knowledge of where the weapon will shoot. Three-gun and Action Rifle shooters run courses of fire that require them to engage targets at ranges from virtually point blank out to 350 yards. Without the time to radically adjust their optics, they have to know where their rifle will shoot at any distance.
Butler started them off with the gun’s muzzle nearly touching the target, then moving back in 5-yard increments, noting where their optics and hold grouped the shots. Sometimes when police or military operatives will come to Butler’s for a rifle course he is surprised to see that they have their AGOG and side-mounted Doctor Optic both zeroed for 100 yards. “The Doctor is a close range sight!” Butler mused, “When I instructed them to fire headshots into an IPSC target at 10 yards, their rifles printed feet low.” Moving further out, Butler trained his students with LaRue Tactical Resetting Sniper targets set up from 100 to 400 yards at the far end of his range.