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.