Why Does the IRS Need So Many Armed Agents

posted on November 5, 2022
IRS building
Susan Walsh/AP

The satirist P.J. O’Rourke once quipped: “Remember that all tax revenue is the result of holding a gun to somebody’s head. Not paying taxes is against the law. If you don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be fined. If you don’t pay the fine, you’ll be jailed. If you try to escape from jail, you’ll be shot.” 

This is funny because it is literally true, but rarely said so pointedly. If O’Rourke, contrarian that he was, were still with us, he’d likely add that, as Congress just passed and President Joe Biden (D) signed, legislation to hire an additional 87,000 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents, the American tax payer, or many more of us, will now have to get very personal with an agency that rarely even answers the phone—according to Forbes, IRS “customer service representatives only answered 11% of the 282 million calls consumers made” in 2021. 

As some IRS agents are armed, we thought we’d ask some questions about their guns and training; after all, perspective helps, especially when much of the mainstream media didn’t answer these basic questions when this issue made news.

Why Does The IRS Need Guns?
The IRS’ mission statement is: “Provide America’s taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and enforce the law with integrity and fairness to all.” 

That being stated, it is easy to wonder why the agency needs to arm its agents. 

For the answer, first consider this statement found just under the one above on the IRS website: “The IRS role is to help the large majority of compliant taxpayers with the tax law, while ensuring that the minority who are unwilling to comply pay their fair share.”

Ensuring that noncompliant people pay can take the kind of persuading O’Rourke articulated. 

IRS badge“CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS,” Carissa Cutrell, public affairs officer for the Criminal Investigation section, said in an interview with America’s 1st Freedom. “IRS:CI special agents are law-enforcement officers that investigate and arrest criminals, some accused of violent crimes or associated with organized crime and narcotics trafficking.”

That certainly makes sense, even if IRS agents can and do also work in collaboration with federal and local law-enforcement agencies. And the agency is serious about prospective agents being prepared to defend themselves. A job advertisement for IRS enforcement agents posted earlier this year, which has since been revised, had a listing under “Major Duties” that read: “Carry a firearm and be willing to use deadly force, if necessary.” 

Historically speaking, IRS agents were once instrumental in jailing Al Capone. And tax laws have often been used to nab other members of organized crime. Tax law has also been frequently used to prosecute drug traffickers and other criminals. So, clearly, a segment of the IRS does need to be armed. 

How Many Guns Do They Have?
IRS public affairs didn’t offer details, but according to a 2020 report by OpenTheBooks.com, a government watchdog organization that discloses spending at various levels of government, the agency has about 4,600 firearms.

A further breakdown of that number reveals the IRS possessed 3,282 pistols, 621 shotguns, 539 rifles, four revolvers and 15 submachine guns. The IRS also had about 2,100 special agents that carry firearms. Interestingly, it’s likely that the majority of those rifles possessed by the agency are the semi-automatics that President Biden wants to ban, at least for civilian use.

How Much Ammo Do They Have?
The amount of ammo the IRS has on hand has surprised some. According to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), at that time the agency had on hand more than 5 million rounds—nearly 2,500 rounds for each armed agent.

Breaking it down further, the report revealed about 3.2 million rounds of pistol ammunition, 1.5 million rifle rounds, 368,000 shotgun shells and 56,000 rounds of ammo for automatic firearms. Earlier this year, between March and June, the IRS purchased another $700,000 worth of ammo.

IRS officerAre Agents Well Trained?
Many critics of the agency point to what they feel are lax training requirements. According to an Inspector General report from back in 2012: “There is no national-level review of firearms training records to ensure that all special agents meet the qualification requirements.”

Further, the report detailed how some agents who failed to qualify with their firearms were apparently allowed to keep them. “Controls did not ensure that CI personnel properly secured firearms when special agents failed to meet the biannual standard qualification requirement,” the report said. “CI was only able to provide evidence that firearms were surrendered in nine of the 27 instances when special agents did not qualify.”

Also, this same Inspector General report found that over a three-year period, IRS agents had fired their guns accidentally more often than they intentionally fired them.

“According to documentation provided by all 26 CI field offices, the NCITA [National Criminal Investigation Training Academy], and the TIGTA OI [U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration Office of Investigations], there were a total of eight firearm discharges classified as intentional use of force incidents and 11 discharges classified as accidental during [fiscal years] 2009 through 2011,” the report stated.

What Does All This Mean For Taxpayers?
Many proponents of the new IRS funding and additional agents claimed the move was an attempt to investigate billionaires who have used various loopholes to avoid paying their “fair share” of taxes; however, according to Forbes’ “2021 World’s Billionaires List” there were 724 billionaires in the United States that year, so an additional 87,000 agents would be enough to have 120 agents investigate the tax filings of each billionaire. Also, according to The Heritage Foundation, auditing every single taxpayer with annual income over $1 million would require only 25,000 new IRS enforcement agents.

Historically, the majority of individual audits have targeted those with less than $75,000 in reported adjusted gross income. And while IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig recently touted a directive by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen promising to avoid an increase in audit levels for households earning less than $400,000 “relative to recent years,” given that overall audit levels are now likely to rise, it is difficult to argue that the number of audits for those earning below that income level won’t increase. Indeed, according to a 2021 GAO report: “From fiscal years 2010 to 2021, the majority of the additional taxes IRS recommended from audits came from taxpayers with incomes below $200,000.”

Given the Biden administration’s recent move to nominate a gun-control proponent to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), as well as the president’s rhetoric about gun makers, stores and owners, it isn’t difficult to be cynical about all of these new, and possibly armed, IRS agents.

O’Rourke also once joked that we should “[n]ever let the people with all the money and the people with all the guns be the same people.” Though that is hardly the case here, during the Obama administration, the IRS was used politically to, for example, deny the nonprofit status of new organizations that were viewed as critical of then-President Barack Obama (D). Only time will tell how this legislation’s $80 billion in increased funding for the IRS—and its many armed agents—will impact American citizens. 


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