Investigation of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

The following reports on the weapons found in Jonestown are memos from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Department of the Treasury to the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the FBI in San Francisco. The memos track the ownership of 36 weapons found in the possession of Peoples Temple, most of which were recovered in Jonestown.

The reports include a five-page memo dated 12 December 78, a four-page follow-up dated 2 January 1979, and a single page wrapping up the investigation dated 16 January 1979.

The opening paragraph of the first memo, as well as the final paragraph of the narrative before the listing begins, refers to “176” firearms found in Jonestown (although the memo’s second reference includes the caveat of “presumably found”). The larger number comes from former – mostly disaffected – members of Peoples Temple, who alleged that guns were being smuggled into Guyana in shipping crates with false bottoms. According to a Customs Service report from 1977 – which was then turned over to INTERPOL, the international police agency, and then eventually to the people of Jonestown – one former Temple member “stated that she had over 170 weapons stored at her house. [and that] the weapons were subsequently taken to Guiana [Guyana] via chartered aircraft out of Miami.” The same report also states that “in 1974 JONES had put out an appeal for all unregistered weapons his people could acquire,” an allegation which is repeated in the second paragraph of the memo below.

Nevertheless, the list of weapons which the State Department turned over to ATF for investigation had only 32 entries, and the first memo below summarizes the results of the agency’s search for records of ownership for those 32 weapons.

The second ATF memo reported that, “there was no evidence to date of any violation of laws under ATF jurisdiction and that ATF had no reason to continue the investigation.” The second memo lists no additional weapons which were still being investigated or the status of which was still pending. The final memo comes to a similar conclusion and recommends that “this investigation be closed.”

As a result, then, as far as this website has been able to ascertain, the size of the Jonestown arsenal was about 32 weapons.

It is noteworthy that the list includes no machine guns, despite initial reports to the contrary.

According to Raven, by Tim Reiterman and John Jacobs (New York: E.P.Dutton, Inc., 1982), “a Remington Model 700 .308 caliber bolt action rifle” was used to assassinate Leo Ryan. Jack Beam, Sr., acquired the weapon in San Francisco on October 31, 1977, “about two months after custom halted its investigation.” That weapon does appear on the first list as entry number 30.

The text of the memos includes original spellings, such as the repetitive use of “People’s Temple” (in fact, the organization was known as “Peoples Temple”). Other known misspellings are followed by the correction in brackets. The numerous deletions refer to names and identifying information of individual Temple members who were licensed to own the guns, to former Temple members who assisted ATF, and to investigators from federal agencies.

These memos were released from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms pursuant to a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Additional information – which was initially withheld from the first entry – was released in 2014 pursuant to McGehee et al. v. Justice, and in denoted by red type.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Report of December 12, 1978
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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Report of January 2, 1979
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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Report of January 16, 1979
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Last modified on May 23rd, 2017.
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