Las Vegas Sun

October 2, 2014

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Living his dream of bringing down ‘the worst criminals’

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Sam Morris

Thomas L. Chittum III. the ATF’s local resident agent in charge, says the agency has a good working relationship with firearms dealers.

Case files were packed and the furniture was tagged. This month the local office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, long a fixture downtown, moves to new quarters across the city. New digs will bring new challenges and opportunities for the agency that tackles everything from firearms trafficking to illegal liquor sales. In his office among the stacked boxes, Thomas L. Chittum III, the resident agent in charge, reflected on what he said was the job of his dreams.

What drew you to the ATF?

I had a conversation with my dad when I was a little kid. He said he always wanted to work for the ATF. That was long before I knew what the ATF was. So I asked him why. He said the ATF always went after the worst criminals.

The real bad guys now are the traffickers arming the Mexican drug cartels. Your office has made some major cases.

The ATF has increased its focus on firearms trafficking because of the increasing violence along the border. I’ve got no crystal ball, but I believe it will continue to be important.

Isn’t the key to stop the straw purchases, where gun smugglers pay front men to buy the guns for them?

It is one method traffickers use to get firearms. Criminals by their very nature can’t walk into a gun store and buy firearms, so they send someone in who can.

And you rely on the gun stores for another set of eyes and ears?

There is a misconception of a divisiveness between ATF and the firearms industry. Here we have a very good relationship with local dealers. The industry trade show will be in Las Vegas in January, and I will be speaking to them on how licensees can ID potential straw purchasers.

There are a lot of passionate gun owners in Las Vegas, and anger that President Barack Obama wants tougher gun laws.

I don’t think disagreement over firearms is anything new. Look at the militia movement of the 1990s. And the concerns many people had in the lead-up to Y2K. These concerns sort of come in waves.

So Washington is not coming for our guns?

ATF is apolitical. We enforce the laws that Congress passes.

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