Report Reveals Program To Stem Flow Of Illegal Guns Into Mexico Ineffective

By Ruxandra Guidi
November 18, 2010

Photo courtesy of ATF
Illegal weapons seized by ATF officials.

SAN DIEGO -- Not enough information about cross-border gun running is being shared by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with Mexican authorities and other U.S. agencies, according to a Justice Department report.

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found Project Gunrunner, established four years ago lacking in information exchange.

The project is also being criticized for focusing on lower-level gun buyers instead of powerful smugglers and traffickers, according to the report issued earlier this month.

ATF Deputy Director Kenneth Melson, championed the program, however, during a recent press conference in Mexico. He said a new tracing system shared by ATF and the Mexican Attorney General's Office would improve cooperation.

"The E-trace agreement allows [U.S. and Mexican authorities] to join forces in tracing weapons that are at the root of cartel violence in this country," said Melson. "And it will allow us to share the intelligence generated by both."

But the report painted a less-rosy picture: “We found that ATF does not systematically and consistently exchange intelligence with its Mexican and some U.S. partner agencies. In addition, some ATF field agents reported that they do not find investigative leads provided to them by ATF’s Field Intelligence Groups to be timely and usable.”

Requests to trace guns have increased in Mexico since 2006, but most of those investigations have proved unsuccessful due to missing or improperly entered data, the report adds.

A recent study by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars finds that Texas, Arizona, and California are major source states for firearms recovered in Mexico.