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The IRS purchases guns and ammunition for special agents in its criminal investigation division, a law enforcement branch established in 1919. The typical IRS auditors that Americans would encounter in a routine audit are unarmed.
The special agents who are armed investigate crimes ranging from money laundering to cybercrime. There were fewer agents in 2021 than there were in 2017.
The division’s spending on ammunition this year is on par with previous years and less than what was spent a decade ago, IRS data shows. Much of the ammunition is used at its training academy in Georgia, where agents complete firearms training and handgun qualifications.
A division of the IRS that has existed for more than a century is getting a lot of attention on social media and conservative media.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson led a segment on his Aug. 4, 2022, show by telling his audience to be worried because the government is "treating the IRS as a military agency" and "stockpiling" ammunition. He asked guest U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., "Why would the IRS need millions of dollars worth of guns and ammo?"
Gaetz replied, "Well, Joe Biden is raising taxes, disarming Americans, so of course they are arming up the IRS like they are preparing to take Fallujah."
Gaetz's comments about Biden came after Carlson cited reports from 2018 and 2020 about IRS spending on weapons and ammunition — expenditures that happened before Biden took office. Gaetz went on to say that the IRS has also spent $731,000 this year — he didn’t say specifically on what — "to quite literally weaponize your country against you."
In June, Gaetz, who has co-sponsored a bill to prevent the IRS from purchasing ammunition, made a similar allegation in an interview with Fox News host Jesse Watters. Then he accused the Biden administration of suppressing access to ammunition "for regular Americans" while "scooping up all of the ammo they can possibly find." In that interview, he said the IRS spent $725,000 this year on ammunition. He also cited that figure in a June press release about his bill.
A spokesperson for Gaetz did not return a request for comment regarding the grounds for his claim.
Here’s what we know: The IRS did spend about $725,000 on ammunition this year. But that is not unusual, and is actually a bit less than what was spent in other recent years. These purchases are not new or unique to the Biden administration — they have been made for an IRS division that has been armed for more than a century.
The IRS buys guns and ammunition yearly for IRS Criminal Investigation, the division that has jurisdiction over federal tax crimes. The people who work there are not the typical auditors that Americans facing routine audits will encounter. The vast majority of those audits are done by mail.
The division in which agents are armed was established in 1919, when it was called the Intelligence Unit, according to the division’s 2019 report. The unit famously investigated gangster Al Capone, who was convicted on tax evasion charges. It was renamed the IRS Criminal Investigation in 1978.
Special agents in the division investigate a number of crimes, including money laundering, cybercrime, financial fraud and narcotics-related crimes. Recently they’ve been part of a multiagency task force tracking down assets of Russian oligarchs.
The division had 2,046 special agents in 2021, a little less than the 2,159 agents it had in 2017. Those numbers haven’t changed much in five years, according to annual reports available on its website; the 2022 report has not been published.
The numbers haven’t changed much in decades. In the division’s 2017 report, then-division chief Don Fort wrote, "We have the same number of special agents — around 2,200 — as we did 50 years ago."
Special agents train for weeks at the National Criminal Investigation Training Academy in Georgia, the 2021 report said. That includes firearms training and handgun qualifications for agents, which is a big reason for the large orders for ammunition.
The IRS Criminal Investigation division ordered $725,460 worth of ammunition in fiscal year 2022, according to figures provided to PolitiFact by Justin Cole, the division’s communications director. That’s slightly more than the money spent in 2021 ($655,013) and 2020 ($616,619).
According to a 2018 report (page 75 of the PDF) to Congress by the U.S. Government Accountability Office on firearms and ammunition purchases by federal law enforcement agencies, the IRS spent about $1.1 million on ammunition in 2011 and about $1 million in 2012. From 2010 to 2017, it averaged $712,500 in ammunition spending. The report described its numbers as minimum values because agencies reported challenges compiling requested data.
The report also said the IRS had 4,461 firearms and about 5 million rounds of ammunition in stock as of November 2017. The report notes the numbers don’t include weapons or ammunition purchased for a small, separate IRS police force of fewer than a dozen officers that provides security at the Enterprise Computing Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The report’s authors noted that officials at law enforcement agencies said they keep ammunition on hand to last for several months for use in training and operation, and that they order large quantities because sometimes there’s a long wait, up to a year, before the orders can be fulfilled.
The Government Accountability Office said that it does not have more recent data available.
The IRS is not the only government agency that some people may be surprised to find purchasing guns and ammunition for law enforcement officers.
Gaetz mentioned the Department of Agriculture, which buys weapons and ammunition for the U.S. Forest Service, and the Department of Education, which purchases them for its Office of the Inspector General. The GAO report lists several others, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration.
As to Gaetz’s claim that these efforts come because Biden is "raising taxes and disarming Americans," there is no evidence that the IRS’ longstanding spending on weapons and ammunition is connected to Biden’s positions on taxes and gun restrictions. Biden supports a House bill to ban certain assault weapons, but that measure is not likely to pass in the Senate and, even if it did, does not amount to a plan to wholesale disarm American citizens.
Biden’s plan to raise taxes targets corporations and high-earning money managers, assuming the Inflation Reduction Act passes the U.S. House. That bill may have secondary effects on average Americans that are hard to measure, experts told PolitiFact. But, even so, the routine audits the IRS performs on average Americans do not involve those armed agents who deal with criminal investigations.
Gaetz claimed that the government is arming up the IRS because the president is raising taxes and disarming Americans, citing the amount of money spent on ammunition by the agency this year.
But there’s been no significant increase in spending on ammunition, and Gaetz ignores that the IRS Criminal Investigation division has existed for more than a century and that the weapons and ammunition are for those law enforcement officers. That division had fewer special agents in 2021 than it had in 2017, but the number of agents has stayed about the same for decades.
The $725,000 the division spent this year on ammunition, much of which is used for agents’ firearms training, is only slightly more than was spent in recent years and less than was spent a decade ago. There is no evidence this continued tradition of spending by the IRS has any connection to Biden’s positions on taxes and gun restrictions.
We rate this claim False.
Internet Video Archive, "Tucker Carlson Tonight," Aug. 4, 2022
Rep. Matt Gaetz, press release "Congressman Matt Gaetz Introduces ‘Disarm the IRS Act’," July 1, 2022
Rep. Matt Gaetz, "Disarm the IRS Act"
United States Government Accountability Office, "Federal Law Enforcement Purchases and Inventory Controls of Firearms, Ammunition, and Tactical Equipment," December 2018
Email exchange with Justin Cole, communications director for the IRS Criminal Investigation division, Aug. 11, 2022
Email exchange with Government Accountability Office spokesperson Charles Young, Aug. 11, 2022
IRS, "IRS audits," accessed Aug. 10, 2022
IRS, "Criminal Investigation (CI) At-a-Glance," accessed Aug. 10, 2022
IRS, "Program and Emphasis Areas for IRS Criminal Investigation," accessed Aug. 11, 2022
IRS, "IRS CI: Annual Report 2021," accessed Aug. 10, 2022
IRS, "IRS: Criminal Investigation Annual report 2019," accessed Aug. 11, 2022
IRS, "Annual reports," accessed Aug. 11, 2022
IRS, "Criminal investigation and law enforcement careers," accessed Aug. 11, 2022
IRS, "Criminal Investigation skills and training," accessed Aug. 11, 2022
Verify, "Yes, the Internal Revenue Service did buy nearly $700K in ammunition in early 2022," Aug. 5, 2022
H&R Block, "You’re Being Audited By The IRS – How Bad is It?"
The New York Times, "House Passes Assault Weapons Ban That Is Doomed in Senate," July 29, 2022
CBS News, "Justice Department launches task force to enforce sanctions against Russian oligarchs," March 2, 2022
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