ATF Death Watch 126: Why the ATF Let Guns Walk

 

Even before the Gunwalker scandal erupted, even before drug thugs wielding ATF-enabled firearms (allegedly led by an FBI informant) murdered U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, we’ve been asking a simple question: why? If F&F was a “sting” designed to follow American gun store guns and catch “the big fish” within the Mexican cartels, why didn’t the Bureau follow American gun store guns and catch “the big fish” within the Mexican cartels? Ten months, over 2000 illegally purchased firearms and . . . nada. By all accounts (including their own), the ATF didn’t even try to follow the guns . . .

One theory suggests that the ATF wanted to create a crisis by enabling the guns and then pointing to recovered gun stats when the Mexicans eTraced the illegally purchased weapons at crime scenes. See? We need to introduce Draconian gun laws in the U.S. to stop this “iron river” of illegal guns flowing from Bob’s Guns to Mexican narco-terrorists.

This the ATF did: both the finger-pointing at the crime gun routine and the creating new gun control bit. Even as Gunwalker was unfolding, President Obama signed an executive order requiring 8500 border-sniffing U.S. gun stores to report multiple sales of “assault rifles” to the feds within 24 hours, under penalty of law (obviously).

This long gun registry is currently hung-up in the courts. Defenders of the ATF’s extra-legal gun smuggling op (e.g., Senator Diane Feinstein) continue to rely on “gun stores guns go to goons” data to justify their justification for the ATF’s “botched sting.” They still cite the bogus stats even though the numbers have been thoroughly debunked (the Mexicans eTraced a small, unrepresentative percentage of recovered guns).

A new analysis throws those skewed numbers into even greater doubt. It explains how the ATF used eTrace to build a case for U.S. gun control out of thin air: by registering the Fast and Furious guns as crime guns before they were used in crimes. In other words, it didn’t matter if the F&F guns were or weren’t used by murderous drug thugs; the weapons would be reported as “crime guns” regardless.

[NB: I don't consider the "create a crisis and then exploit it" explanation as the sina qua non of Fast and Furious. Not considering Operation Wide Receiver, the DOJ's decision to release a known grenade maker back into Mexico, the DEA's money laundering and so on. I reckon F&F was a win - win for the Bureau: arm the Sinaloans against the Zetas and inflate the gun numbers for political purposes. A lose - lose for Agent Terry and the rule of law.]

TEXT SENT TO TTAG BY ANONYMOUS AUTHOR STARTS HERE:

“I wanted to comment on one reported fact. In an email from Newell to McMahon cited in the report, Newell reported that, as of December 2010, 241 F&F guns were traced from Mexico and 350 of them were traced from US.  That would mean that 241 were traced from some office in Mexico and 350 from some law enforcement agency in the US.

The percentage of traces, roughly 30%, given the total reported number of walked firearms (2000), is a statistical impossibility.

WHY?

Before a firearm – any firearm – can be traced, the person seeking the trace must have the make, model and serial number of the firearm. A firearm cannot be traced without that.

To obtain that information, the person seeking the trace has to have custody of the firearm. No-one can see the above descriptors unless he or she is actually holding it in their hands – has custody of it. In other words it must have been recovered and in the hands of law enforcement, Mexican or US.

This means that of the number of guns which ATF waved good-bye to prior to December 2010 (I think it is generally agreed that F&F did not begun until 2009, in other words, not a very long period as I recall), 30 percent of them ended up in the custody of law enforcement. Then, that law enforcement agency decided to trace it using ATF’s National Tracing Center.

In and of itself, that is not a common occurrence and the decision to trace is an an independent one made by the detective on the basis of whether it may develop leads to whatever crime he or she is investigating. Causing a trace through ATF Tracing Center brings with it certain consequences seen below.

I am sorry but that scenario is not believable.

What probably happened is that ATF itself or through friendly law enforcement agencies ran the traces and thereby intentionally caused a trace of a firearm that was not in the custody of law enforcement. ATF could get that information from the records kept by the dealers. Then, when the trace is recorded by the ATF Tracing Center, each firearm traced receives the label of a “crime gun.”

In my view, that is the essence of statistics that DOJ was trying to create.

I could never figure out how or why expected the walked firearms to be traced. A trace is so serendipitous that the national statistics of traced guns is so small that is a statistical irrelevancy. The fact that the dealers were supplying guns to purchasers who were known to have contacts to the cartels and were criminals is also statistically irrelevant given the serendipity of the causes of traces. As I understand that is what this whole episode was about. I assume that ATF would have continued to trace the firearms known to be sold by dealers to straw purchasers until every one of them had been traced.

That is not far removed from the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. When Congress was considering that bill, there was no basis to believe that “assault weapons” were ever used in crime, although there have been rare exceptions; i.e., try carrying a rifle and walking around the south side of Chicago. They can’t be concealed and that is the primary concern for violent criminals.

What ATF did in the period few years before the Act was this:

ATF Inspectors performing routine regulatory compliance inspections of dealers were sensitized to copy the make, model and serial numbers of every firearm sought to be included in the “assault weapon” ban. The inspectors then requested a trace of such weapons even though they were never involved in any wrong doing.  These included those that were sold years ago as well as those in current inventory. As soon as a trace request is made,  that firearm is labeled a “crime gun.”  (that in itself is a whole nother story).

That labeling is to circumvent the FOPA ban on computerizing information which prohibits ATF from entering any data into any computer that was derived from records required to be kept by the industry but which “excepts” information related to criminal investigations. By labeling traced firearms as “crime guns,” ATF has built and maintains a shadow registration system).

Soon, ATF had the astonishing statistics that “assault weapons” were the guns of choice for violent criminals. ATF then published an official report of those findings and that report was used as the basis for the Assault Weapon ban.

Conversely, the sunset of the “assault weapons ban”  occurred ten years later only because ATF did not continue to have the inspectors keep tracing  “assault weapons” and when those in Congress seeking to renew the ban had zero empirical data to cite that “assault weapons” were a problem.  In fact, most police departments recognized that fact and even the most liberal ones had nothing to sustain their baseless ideas.

Absolutely the trace data is available and can be retrieved readily. The trick is that you can’t get it from ATF (DOJ) by way of FOIA or by other means that people are supposed to be able to obtain government documents. Merely because of the fact that the gun was traced, it becomes a “crime gun.” And is thus classified in some pseudo category, “for law enforcement purposes.”

A request from the Mexican govt or from any agency in Mexico would be difficult for DOJ to refuse but the results would probably be scrubbed of anything useful. The vital data which is easily hidden is the identity of the agency originating the trace. That would be ATF and it would not be for any legitimate investigative purpose.

What I see is that the guns that Newell is discussing in his email are not guns that were recovered by law enforcement agencies in Mexico of the US. That was the point I concluded from your email. ATF is tracing the guns using the records of federally licensed dealers who are cooperating with ATF. A complete useless exercise and a waste of time, money and effort. The trace results from the trace by the ATF National Tracing Center can reveal nothing (in fact the information provided by the trace would be far less than the information they have in hand from the dealer’s records).

To understand, one has to understand how firearms tracing works.

The tracing center is nothing more than a switching center. To initiate the trace of a gun the person initiating the trace must know the make, model and serial number of the gun. That information is called, faxed, or emailed to the NTC in West Virginia. The NTC in turn calls, faxes or emails the manufacturer who goes through his records to find the gun and inform the NTC of the licensee to whom it was shipped and the date.

The NTC in turn calls, faxes, or emails that licensed entity to that licensee who locates the gun in his records and informs the NTC of the licensee to whom it was shipped and the date. That process goes on until the NTC reaches a licensee who made the first retail sale (sale to a non-licensed person).

At that point, the information about the buyer is available from the ATF Form 4473 which contains every item of personal information about the buyer known to man. That information is designed to never leave the licensed premises of the dealer. When this information reaches the National Tracing Center, it is entered into the computer and is never erased.

So in the F&F investigation, ATF would be provided with the identity of the straw purchaser – and all of his personal information. Things which they knew before the trace began.

The reason for tracing guns is obvious. The tracing center is a ruse by ATF. Section 926 of Title 18 (a section added by FOPA) prohibits ATF from making or keeping any information contained in the records of licensed dealers. That includes Computerized data.

There was ample evidence before FOPA that ATF was creating a National Registry. Since § 926 became law, ATF simply cannot keep any such records.

To get around that, ATF has created a monstrous bureaucracy which classifies all guns that are traced as “crime guns” (as if there is any such thing). Can you imagine. Here is a gun that was made to be used in crime?

So the whole purpose for tracing guns by ATF is not to aid law enforcement or criminal investigations, it is to develop statistics for the use of lefty academics who are advising ATF and DOJ what statistics they need for new legislation or more regulations. To make matters worse, we, the taxpayers, are funding the scam.

The DOJ Bureau of Research and Statistics works hand in glove with the gun grabbers and gives federal grants to police agencies who will agree to trace all of the guns which come within their custody. Most are recoveries of stolen guns, guns taken in domestic disputes, found guns, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and everything imaginable but not related to any crime at all. Very very, very few guns use in real crimes are ever traced.

In most cases, such guns are recovered with the arrest of the perp and then the trace is only of minor interest. Once it gets that label, ATF is free to enter all the information concerning it into the records. That is how the statistics can be skewed in any direction at the discretion of ATF which will always be in the direction of gun control, banning guns and more and more regulation.

By tracing all of the guns that walked, they all become guns that were used in crimes and ATF and DOJ have the statistical basis for asserting that the dealers are responsible for all of the murders. Simple.”