B. Todd Jones, who doubles as the U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, said he sees a "sweet spot" for the agency in tackling violent crime in big cities, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Jones confirmed ATF is also considering changing its name to the Violent Crime Bureau.
Jones took over last year as the bureau's fifth acting director in the past six years.
Since then he has tightened controls over undercover investigations following the flawed operation known as Fast and Furious that allowed suspected smugglers to buy thousands of firearms.
Also muddying up ATF's past is the 1992 Ruby Ridge shootout in Idaho and the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas.
"We're the entity that everyone loves to hate," the 55-year-old former Marine said.
ATF was stitched together in the 1970s from units going all the way back to the age of Prohibition. Famed lawman Eliot Ness worked for an ATF predecessor.