It’s Official: The ATF Sucks

The Office of Inspector General has just released a report on the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (and really big fires). In specific, they took a gander at the ATF and Sometimes E’s “Project Gunrunner” interdiction program. Click here to download the full report. Here’s the punchline: the ATF doesn’t play nicely with others and hasn’t done jack. Aside from that, I’d like to point out that NO ONE HAS QUANTIFIED THIS PROBLEM . . .

The OIG report simply assumes there’s a booming traffic in guns from the U.S. to Mexico, and that these weapons end up in the hands of murderous criminal cartels. Where’s the evidence for this? If we’re spending all this time, effort, money and manpower trying to stem the “Iron River,” how about a little proof that it’s a torrent, not a trickle?

I think the U.S. needs the ATF like if needs a fish needs a bicycle. But it’s kinda unfair to criticize the ATF for failing to stop guns flowing down the “Iron River” when we don’t have any idea how many guns are snuggled. And to whom they go. It’s entirely possible that U.S. guns are going to Mexican civilians, desperate to arm themselves against predatory drug gangs, police and army troops.

Meanwhile and anyway, the ATF is playing fast and loose with the stats surrounding this phantom menace.

ATF increased the number of Project Gunrunner cases it initiated by 109 percent and increased the number of those cases it referred to USAOs by 54 percent. The number of defendants ATF referred for prosecution increased by 37 percent.

Yes, well, how many people? No se senor. At least we know the number of gun dealer inspections carried out by ATF’s Project Gunrunner—which may or may not have led to these cases, which may or may not lead to convictions. At some point.

ATF implemented a Gunrunner Impact Team initiative that increased the number of gun dealer compliance inspections conducted and cases initiated within the Houston Field Division area. Under this initiative, ATF deployed 100 agents, investigators, and support staff to the Houston Field Division for 120 days. ATF reported that the team conducted over 1,000 inspections of gun dealers and generated investigative leads leading to the seizure of over 400 firearms.

I’m not very good with numbers, but I make that around 10 inspections per person, at an inspection rate of one every 12 days. As for the results, there’s no indication how many dealers were inspected (rather than total inspections), which dealers were responsible for the 400 weapons seized, what type of weapons were seized and whether or not these weapons were headed for Mexico.

Other than that, success! I guess. OK, bottom line time:

Initially, Project Gunrunner had no dedicated funding within ATF’’s budget. ATF funded all of the initiative’’s operations out of its general appropriation. As ATF expanded the initiative in response to the increased violence in Mexico and concern over firearms trafficking into Mexico, ATF began seeking dedicated funds for Project Gunrunner, starting with its FY 2008 budget request. In FY 2009, ATF received $21.9 million to support and expand Project Gunrunner. This included $5.9 million in ATF’’s FY 2009 appropriation for Project Gunrunner, $10 million in March 2009 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act), and an additional $6 million in June of that year. Under Public Law No. 111-230 (2010), Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriations, ATF received an additional $37.5 million for the continued expansion of Project Gunrunner in FY 2010.14

The ATF’s budget is about $1.5 billion dollars per year. Add up the numbers above and U.S. taxpayers have shelled out an additional $81.3 million on Project Gunrunner. So far.

Here’s an idea: why don’t we ditch the ATF? What do they do that the FBI couldn’t and shouldn’t be doing? (Don’t get me started on the Coast Guard and Homeland Security.) Use the money to pay for National Guard troops on the Mexican border, under the direct control of the state governors in the affected area. Seal the damn border and call it good.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

9 Responses to It’s Official: The ATF Sucks

  1. avatarsutton says:

    No, no, please get started on the Coast Guard and Homeland Security. I'm curious.

  2. avatarRalph says:

    So let me do some quick math here. BATFE seized 400 guns at the low, low taxpayer cost of just $83 million Yankee dollars. Let's see, that's … that's … Holy crap! That's $207,500 per gun. $207 large! For a frickin' gun! You could buy Guadalajara for less money than that.

    If those guns weren't all engraved single action 1876 Centennial Exhibition Colts, then we have just taken one massive screwing and we weren't even kissed.

  3. sutton and Mr. Baum (via email), what part of "don't get me started" did you consider rhetorical?

    I'll try and restrain myself and simply say that these are the government agencies involved with Mexican gun-running—on the U.S. side:

    Local police
    City police
    State police
    County Sheriffs
    Tribal Police
    The Drug Enforcement Administration
    The National Park Service
    The Department of Homeland Security (which includes United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
    The U.S. State Department
    The Department of Justice (which includes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation)
    The U.S. National Guard
    The U.S. Army
    The Central Intelligence Agency

  4. avatarRalph says:

    I don't think that all those agencies are "involved with Mexican gun-running." I'm sure that many are, but the rest are trying to stop it and maybe make a few bucks on the side.

    In late breaking true news, the BATFE just busted a couple of former US soldier for selling arms to an LA street gang. The price for the arms, identified by Associated Press as an AK-47, two Romanian variants of the same, and two semiautomatic weapons, was $6,000.

    Now that's what I'm talking about! $1,200 per gun is reasonable, I think, for highly collectible Romanian variants. Does Project Gunrunner know about this?

  5. avatarRB211 says:

    Yea, I have to agree with Lee on this one. Why are we wasting more tax dollars to pacify the Pres of Mexico when he doesn't lift a finger to fix his own problems? Our current admin has been nothing but an apologist for things that are not even our problem.

    What happens here is our problem. Thats all, nothing else. Being the "good neighbor" has not worked even when Teddy Roosevelt. was president. Like Robert said, seal the border and call it good.

  6. avatarBambiB says:

    Why does Mexico have a problem with drug cartels?

    Answer: Because anti-drug laws in the United States have made drugs unbelievably profitable.

    Irony: The same government that has locked up a million people solely for possessing drugs, keeps the profit margin high and the reasons for the violence in Mexico strong by insisting that drugs must be illegal.

    More irony: The laws making drugs illegal (at the Federal level) are themselves illegal (unconstitutional). They rest on an absurd interpretation of the Commerce Clause (see "Wickard v. Filburn"). The Supremes knuckled under to FDR's court-packing threats and issued lunacy from the bench.

    Final piece of head-spinning nuttiness: Most federal actions with regard to the states, and all federal gun control laws, rely upon this insane decision by the Supremes.

  7. avatarRalph says:

    Wickard was indeed the most absurd and overreaching Supreme Court decision since Dredd Scott. However, Wickard-reliant laws can't be unconstitutional because SCOTUS said they ain't and continues to say so. How's that for irony? For irony on top of irony, commerce between the US and Mexico, legal or otherwise, is clearly the purview of the federal government pursuant to the Commerce Clause even without Wickard.

  8. avatarE. Zach Lee-Wright says:

    You writers have neglected to consult the Wright Style Guide. Please refer to agents of BATF by their proper abbreviation. This is AG for agent therefore agents of BATF are to be referred to in future posts as BATFAGs.
    Thank you for your cooperation.

  9. avatarStitch says:

    “Don’t get me started on the Coast Guard and Homeland Security.” What do you have against the USCG? Is it select parts or the organization as a whole? Sure they’re not DoD and have the unfortunate luck to be piled with DHS, but I think they’ve more than proved their worth and relevance in recent years.

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