Real-Life ATF Heroes Speak at RT Booklover’s Convention

Thriller author Andrew Peterson is no stranger to dangerous and daring escapades. But how does this author come up with these scenes of mayhem? This daredevil author combines his own experiences of target shooting, scuba diving and helicopter flying, with a little bit imagination. But when he's in doubt he turns to trusted sources, such as government agents, for more information. Today the author describes his experiences meeting ATF agents at the 2011 RT Booklovers Convention and what he has scheduled for next year.

Try to imagine being undercover inside a violent motorcycle gang, infiltrating a firearms trafficking ring, or raiding a fortified house full of drugs, guns, and thugs. Welcome to the ATF's world. The most dangerous jobs aren't necessarily overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Many of them are right here, within our own borders. The life of an ATF special agent is one of near constant stress. So why do it? Why subject themselves to it? Is it the adrenaline rush? The excitement of working on the razor's edge between life and death? I think it's both of these things and more. A lot more. It’s a deep rooted love of America and everything it stands for.

These federal agents are true-to-life heroes which make them perfect candidates for literary heroes as well. It’s why I thought inviting the ATF to the RT Booklovers Convention in Los Angeles last month would be interesting. One of the goals of the workshop was to create an environment where authors and aspiring authors could personally interact with these highly trained individuals. I felt workshop attendees would be able to write their fictional characters more convincingly. When Jo Carol Jones and Carol Stacy gave me a green light, I contacted the Los Angeles Field Division of the ATF and began organizing the workshop.

Nine ATF special agents attended, along with one Industry Operations Officer. Of the nine special agents present, two were K-9 handlers along with their dogs.  

The Public Information Officer (PIO) explained that of all the federal law enforcement agencies, the ATF is the probably the most misunderstood. It’s a good bet the American public has a better mental picture of acronyms like FBI, DEA, and ICE–Immigration and Customs Enforcement. So what is the ATF? And what is its role in America? Simply stated, the ATF is a federal law enforcement agency responsible for the prevention and investigation of federal crimes involving the illegal use, manufacture, trafficking, and possession of alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives. The ATF also investigates bombings and arson. It operates a sophisticated and unique fire research laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, where full-scale mock-ups of criminal arsons can be reconstructed.

The ATF presentation and demo was primarily an educational workshop, but it was also entertaining. People enjoyed meeting the federal agents in person and asking questions. They also liked handling the wide array of firearms­–everything from a tiny 22 caliber “pen gun” to the gangster famous, Thompson submachine gun, more commonly known as a “Tommy Gun.”

The canine demonstrations were the highlights of the workshop. Marianne, an explosives detection canine, and her handler did a bomb sniffing demo and fielded all kinds of questions from the audience. But without a doubt, Titus, a Special Response Team tactical canine, and his handler brought down the house. Guess, who volunteered to wear the sleeve and be “taken down?” You guessed it, yours truly.

Being attacked by a dog is well outside of my comfort zone. Nearly all of us think of dogs as beloved family pets, curled up at our feet in front of the fireplace. We don’t like to think of them in a vicious or threatening way. Perhaps that’s the reason tactical dogs are so effective during raids and takedowns. I can tell you with certainly, I was edgy at best, downright scared at worst. I played a victim in two demos, one from the front–standing still, and one from behind–while running across the room. The attack from behind was far more harrowing. Although I couldn’t see Titus coming, I sure heard his low growl as he launched at me. And yes, he bit the sleeve! All things being equal, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and I’d definitely do it again. It’s a matter of trust. Trust in both halves of the ATF team.  

Bottom line? We owe our domestic law enforcement officers the same level of gratitude and respect as our military troops serving overseas. Next year’s RT Convention is in Chicago. I’m already working on doing another workshop in the Windy City. With a little luck and a lot of planning, you’ll get the opportunity to thank a federal agent in person!

-Andrew Peterson 

Andrew Peterson's series second, Forced to Kill, was released on May 2nd as an audiobook-exclusive on The novel follows former Marine Sniper and CIA operations officer, Nathan McBride, who readers first met in 2008's First To Kill. And for more about what took place at the RT Booklovers Convention be sure to take a look at our Convention Home.

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