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BATFE's "Project Gunrunner" Comes Under Additional Scrutiny

Friday, February 25, 2011

We have previously reported on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' "Project Gunrunner" and its inherent problems.  Established in 2007, this program sought to expand the agency's firearm tracing operations to address trafficking to Mexico. A CBS News story this week brought more scrutiny and additional questions to bear on the controversial program.  

The CBS News story detailed the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.  Guns found at the scene of the murder were allegedly obtained by a "gun runner" in Arizona, and then sent to criminals in Mexico.  And, according to the story, BATFE was not only aware of the situation, but may have inadvertently facilitated it.

The story details how, in late 2009, BATFE was alerted to suspicious transactions at seven gun shops in the Phoenix area.  The story alleges that several gun shops wanted to stop the questionable sales, but BATFE encouraged them to continue.

Apparently, Jaime Avila was one of the suspicious buyers. The story reports that BATFE put Avila in its suspect database in January of 2010, and, for the next year, watched as Avila and other suspects bought large quantities of firearms for "personal use."  The purchases included 575 semi-automatic rifles, most of which were allegedly allowed by BATFE managers to be "moved to the streets" for the reported purpose of gathering intelligence and to see where the guns ended up. The story reports that the tactic is called letting the guns "walk, " and quotes one unnamed BATFE agent who called the strategy "insane," and another who said, "We were fully aware the guns would probably be moved across the border to drug cartels where they could be used to kill."

The story goes on to note that, hours after Agent Terry was gunned down, BATFE arrested Avila, and the U.S. Attorney's office has since indicted 34 suspected gunrunners in the same group.

Reportedly, the Justice Department has said that BATFE has never knowingly allowed the sale of "assault weapons" to suspected gunrunners.

As we detailed in last week's Grassroots Alert, the U.S. House has voted for an amendment to a continuing appropriations bill offered by Reps. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) that would prohibit the use of federal funds for the new and unauthorized multiple sales reporting scheme proposed by BATFE.  The measure passed the chamber (277-149) with broad bipartisan support.

BATFE is demanding the authority to require all of the 8,500 firearm dealers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to report all sales of two or more semi-automatic rifles within five consecutive business days, if the rifles are larger than .22 caliber and use detachable magazines. The CBS report casts continuing doubt on whether BATFE could make any effective use of the thousands of new reports the agency would receive under this proposal.

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