ATF Project Gunrunner Falls Short, IG Finds
By | November 10, 2021 1:07 pm

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ five-year initiative to stem the flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexico has largely been ineffective because a lack of communication with other agencies and an inability to target “higher-level traffickers,” according to a report issued by the Justice Department’s Inspector General this week.

Project Gunrunner, which started as a pilot program in Texas in 2005 and expanded nationwide in 2006, is intended to combat firearms trafficking into Mexico, which often puts weapons into the hands of crime cartels.

The program’s key components include: the expansion of gun tracing in Mexico, international coordination, domestic activities and intelligence. However, according to the report, the ATF has fallen short of reaching those goals. The OIG found “significant weaknesses in ATF’s implementation of Project Gunrunner [which] undermine its effectiveness.”

Among the problems specifically cited were deficiencies in ATF’s intelligence tracking and information sharing with Mexican authorities or with other U.S. agencies such as Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. The report also found 68 percent of cases featured a single-defendant, and investigators were discouraged from pursuing complex conspiracy investigations that could have led to the arrest and prosecution of higher-level traffickers. Moreover, ATF and ICE do not conduct joint operations, consistently communicate about cases or coordinate investigations.

The report also cited difficulties in working with Mexican authorities as a hindrance in gun tracing, which tracks the origins of seized weapons. “The majority of guns confiscated by Mexico and submitted to the ATF for tracing do originate in the US.

However, a large number of seized weapons are not sent for tracing or tracing is considered ‘unsuccessful’ because there is missing or improperly entered data concerning the seizure,” according to BBC News.

The report makes 15 recommendations, chief among them improving intelligence sharing to focus on complex conspiracy cases that would “dismantle firearms trafficking rings.” The ATF also needs better relationships with ICE and with Mexican law-enforcement officials, according to the report.

Early this year, Attorney General Eric Holder hinted that one other way to curtail the gun trade would be to reinstitute the ban on the sale of assault weapons, saying a ban would, “have a positive impact in Mexico, at a minimum,” according to CBS News. The report makes no mention of taking such action, however, the comments has provided fuel to the Tea Party faithful who fear the Obama administration is trying to take away Second Amendment rights.

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