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I’ve made no secret of my belief that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (and really big fires) is best characterized by Randy Newman’s take on short people. It’s got no reason to live. What does the ATF do that some other (i.e. five) federal agencies aren’t already doing? As the agency rushes in to combat the flow of guns from America to Mexican drug lords, spending an extra $37.5 million in the process, it’s becoming increasingly clear that their efforts are a nothing short of a farce. In fact, the ATF won’t even tell taxpayers how many guns may be involved or how many they’ve stopped. Check this from the AP . . .

The ATF says many guns used by Mexican cartels are bought in the United States, with Arizona and Texas being major sources, but it no longer releases estimates of how many because the numbers have become too politicized.

“It doesn’t matter if 20 percent are coming from the U.S. or 80 percent,” [ATF deputy director Kenneth] Melson said. “We know a lot of guns are going to Mexico and it’s a problem.”

There are only two possible reasons the ATF won’t tell us the scope of the gun-running problem: 1) They have no clue 2) It’s tiny. I’m going with both.

I’ve received an email from a source who worked with the Mexicans and D.E.A. agents. He says the vast majority of the guns used by the Mexican drug cartels are weapons “stolen” from the Mexican police and military. In other words, the ATF is like the drunk guy looking for the keys to his car under a streetlamp because the light’s better.

Also worthy of note: the ATF’s eTrace program—not-so-proudly touted by ATF deputy director Kenneth Melson—allows Mexican authorities access to American gun buyer’s information. Information that the ATF isn’t even supposed to be keeping, as it violates the law specifically forbidding the U.S. government from maintaining a registry of American gun sales.

What’s more, the international “coordination” between the ATF and their Mexican amigos is a joke. And that’s official. As is ATF deputy director Kenneth Melson’s pass-the-buck PR exercise.

U.S. and Mexican officials are just now fully employing a gun-tracing program touted as a key deterrent to weapons-smuggling, nearly three years after it was first announced in Mexico and weeks after an inspector general’s preliminary report called it underused and unsuccessful.

Not enough Mexican investigators had been trained on or had access to the electronic database designed to trace illegally seized weapons to origins in the U.S., a top official at Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday.

“It doesn’t mean the system is not working. It’s not working as well as it can,” said ATF deputy director Kenneth Melson. “The information was being submitted by people who didn’t know how to trace guns.”

But now they do, right? Well, soon. Maybe.

He and Mexico Attorney General Arturo Chavez Chavez signed a memorandum of understanding on Tuesday that will increase to 30 a month the number of people trained to use the program, known as eTrace, an electronic database that can trace the manufacture, import, sale and ownership of guns.

Anyone want to guess who’s paying for that training? And you remember that widely-touted stat that said that the ATF traced 19,000 U.S.-made guns at the request of the Mexican government? Well how about this then?

[In 2008], Mexico submitted more than 25,000 trace requests compared to about 1,500 in 2005, according to a preliminary report from the U.S. Justice Department inspector general, which investigates programs for waste and fraud in its programs. But the report said most trace requests were unsuccessful because of missing or improper data.

For example, 44 percent of the 1,518 request in 2005 were successful, but only 31 percent of 21,726 requests in 2009 were successful. That compares to a 64 to 68 percent success rate for requests from the ATF’s Houston Field division.

The report defines a successful trace as one where the agents identify the dealer who originally sold the gun. But guess what? We don’t know if that’s the Spanish equivalent of fo shizzle. The ATF is happy to share buyer info with the notoriously corrupt Mexican authorities, but U.S. taxpayers don’t even get a look-in.

It’s entirely possible that a large percent of this small percent of a small percent of the American guns that may or may not have been accurately entered into the system nby the Mexicans are, as our Deep Throat suggested, weapons that came unofficially through official channels. In other words, this whole ATF endeavor is clothed in FUD.

President Lyndon Johnson said “a decision is only as good as the information its based on.” That didn’t work out so well for LBJ’s Vietnam strategy. It won’t work out well for the ATF’s anti-gun running strategy either. Just as it hasn’t so far.

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  1. " . . . the ATF isn’t even supposed to be keeping, as it violates the law specifically forbidding the U.S. government from keeping a registry of American gun sales."

    Cite, please.

  2. The Firearms Owners' Protection Act, signed into law in 1986, specifically forbids registration of firearms records at 18 U.S.C. 926(a):

    "No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners' Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established."

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