A controversy about tactics used to break up an extensive Mexican gunrunning ring has prompted federal officials to reevaluate an aggressive law enforcement strategy to stop firearms trafficking, the Washington Post reports. The new scrutiny comes after two shootings in the past three months in which federal agents were killed and guns recovered by investigators were traced to individuals already under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, charges that ATF agents allowed hundreds of firearms to flow from gun stores in the U.S. to criminals in Mexico and elsewhere to build cases against more prominent gun traffickers. The controversy highlights the difficulty ATF agents face in complex cases against increasingly sophisticated gunrunning rings, said former and current government officials. Because of weak gun laws and investigative limitations imposed at the urging of the gun lobby, many gunrunning cases end with little more than paperwork violations against buyers who procure guns for others. Such so-called straw purchaser cases rarely amount to more than charges of lying on federal documents. “There is no gun-trafficking statute,” said James Cavanaugh, a retired ATF supervisor. “We’ve been yelling for years that we need a gun-trafficking statute, because these cases are so difficult to prove.”