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The Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has unleashed a new weapon against armed, violent criminals - the telephone.

A national toll-free hotline became operational just last week. Agents hope that the public will call and report offenders who use firearms to prey on others. The number is 1-800-ATF-GUNS.Utahns are encouraged to call the number anytime with tips and information about gun crimes, armed drug traffickers and gang activity. Hotline callers will speak directly to ATF agents and will not be required to give their names.

"ATF believes the hotline will be a major weapon in the nation's fight against violent crime," said John Minichino, resident agent in charge of the Salt Lake ATF office.

Those who call the hotline with information will also be informed of any rewards payable for information that solves crimes or leads to the arrest of fugitives. Code names will permit callers to collect rewards without revealing their identities.