Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote letters to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives criticizing the agency’s implementation of Project Gunrunner.
Project Gunrunner is an ongoing effort to stem the flow of weapons into Mexico. Last December, U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in a gunfight with weapons allegedly purchased from a Phoenix area gun store linked with the border initiative, The Arizona Republic reported Tuesday.
In his letters addressed to ATF’s Acting Director Kenneth Melson, the Senate Judiciary ranking member blamed the agency for Terry’s death, calling their actions “careless, if not negligent.” Grassley also referenced the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General’s report of the program, who deemed it “unsuccessful” mainly because ATF focused more on gun dealers and straw purchaser investigations, rather than on higher level traffickers and smugglers.
Grassley also warned Melson and his agency on whistleblowers. ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillette allegedly accused one of his agents with misconduct for providing details on the Project Gunrunner to the Senate Judiciary Committee, prompting Grassley to say ATF reacted wrongly. He spoke highly of the need for whistleblowers, calling them “some of the most patriotic people I know.”
Proposed budget cuts for ATF could mean the end for Project Gunrunner. Former senior ATF official James Cavanaugh told The Washington Post, “ATF is the ugly stepchild of every administration.” The agency has been under intense scrutiny by conservatives in Congress and gun-rights advocates, like the National Rifle Association, because of its role in enforcing gun laws.
Grassley requested a briefing for his staff by ATF supervisors on the Mexico border initiative by Feb. 3.