cover image In the Cross Fire: A Political History of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms

In the Cross Fire: A Political History of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms

Rudolf Steiner, William J. Vizzard, Wukkuan H. Vuzzard. Lynne Rienner Publishers, $49.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-55587-671-5

Vizzard worked for 27 years in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), both as agent and as supervisor, leaving in 1994, a year after the notorious raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. He presents a blistering critique of the embattled agency, tracing its origins to the 1919 creation of a Prohibition unit by the then Bureau of Internal Revenue. The author charges that ATF, in its longstanding struggle against moonshiners, has a history of accommodating the liquor industry, and this set a pattern of conflict avoidance or appeasement with other interest groups, such as the gun lobby. Underpinning his account with academic theories of bureaucratic behavior, he pinpoints ATF's historic weaknesses: fragmented jurisdiction, lack of a well-defined mission or policy, erratic implementation of the law, a tendency to let its priorities be shaped by the prevailing political environment. Currently associate professor of criminal justice at California State University, Sacramento, Vizzard recounts a number of violent ATF confrontations with members of militant right-wing or religious separatist groups before the bloody sieges at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco. He gives a scholarly, non-personal account of the botched Waco raid in 1993, blaming the disaster on a top-level management that had little or no experience in overseeing such an operation. Although it offers few surprises, this earnest report provides a privileged insider's look at the controversial agency, drawing as it does on interviews with past and present ATF employees including all its former directors. (Mar.)