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What an ATF Scandal Revealed About US Gun Trafficking

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(Article changed on January 18, 2013 at 00:22)

Thanks  to the great reporting of  Katherine Eban  at Fortune magazine we now know that the "Fast and Furious" scandal was largely manufactured for political gain.  The "Fast and Furious" operation by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the ATF) in Arizona was never designed to include the tactic of "gun walking".  Gun walking is the practice of intentionally not ceasing illegally purchased firearms in order to follow the subsequent chain of possession back to higher level criminals.  It seems a few rogue ATF agents did engaged in an incident of this type on their own initiative, which does make it the AFT's problem,  but the specific guns the ATF is accused of allowing to walk across the border, one of which was used to kill a border guard named Brian Terry, could not be ceased by the ATF because the Arizona federal Prosecutors decided these weapons were legally purchased. Federal prosecutors in Arizona were broadly interpreting Arizona's gun laws which are among the weakest gun laws in the nation. 

Ideological arguments over the Fast and Furious scandal aside, the real lesson in Eban's piece is how our love affair with guns and our Second Amendment rights is reeking havoc in neighboring Mexico.  Every day an estimated 2,000 guns are purchased here that end up crossing the boarder into Mexico to arm the drug cartels.  Here is some background on the problems in Mexico: 
 In Mexico, the "war on drugs" is quite literally a war
VALLECILLO, Mexico | Wed May 23, 2012 10:11am EDT
(Reuters) - Mexican government forces had bottled up a band of enemy fighters in this tiny village late last year, but feared they would escape into the dusty, rock-strewn hills. So more than 600 soldiers and federal police closed in from all directions with armored Humvees and helicopters.
The outlaws responded with a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault-rifle fire, tearing apart one federal police vehicle. For three days the fighting raged. In the end, according to military accounts of the battle, 22 members of the Zetas drug cartel, two police officers and a soldier were dead, and 20 Zetas were in custody. Dozens more escaped to fight another day. [SNIP]
Mexican and U.S. agents say the Zetas' paramilitary tactics -- based on small, roaming cells of armed operatives -- and indiscriminate violence are the driving forces behind a recent escalation in Mexico's drug war. That conflict, between government forces and the cartels and among the cartels themselves, has claimed about 55,000 lives in the past five years, including more than 3,000 police officers and soldiers.
THE RIVER OF IRON: Gun Trafficking Into Mexico
Mexican government officials estimate that some 2,000 weapons purchased in the U.S. are smuggled into Mexico every day.  Guns flow into the hands of the powerful drug cartels of Mexico while cocaine and other drugs flow back across the border to ravage yet another generation of vulnerable young Americans. These well armed cartels operate like insurgency groups effectively challenging the Mexican governments power to enforce law and order.  The cartels are terrorizing and slaughtering the country's law abiding citizens.  The corrupting influence of guns, drugs and money threatens to destabilize the whole country.
While gun sales are legal and gun ownership is constitutionally protected in the United States, gun sales are prohibited in Mexico.  This makes the problem at the U.S., Mexican border particularly acute.  Furthermore, organizations such as the NRA aggressively oppose any attempt to regulate gun sales in the U.S.  This may suggest why there are currently no federal statutes outlawing firearms trafficking.  It is left to the states to pass such laws.
The U.S. Southern border states have an especially "pro-gun" outlook.  The Phoenix area alone has 853 federally licensed firearms dealers.  Customers 18 years old or older who can pass criminal background checks may legally buy as many weapons as they like.  There are no waiting periods and no gun permits are required.  Some dealers offer discounts for multiple gun purchases, while others voluntarily restrict customers to one weapon per day.  While gun buyers must certify in writing, in Arizona, that the guns they buy are for personal use, they may change their minds and resell their guns at any time, even in the parking lot of the gun store.  Arizona laws against gun trafficking carry relatively mild sentences and are hard to prosecute.  Because of the weak laws and strong pro-gun attitudes in Arizona, federal prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute those accused of buying guns on behalf of criminals, and federal prosecutors in Arizona don't consider huge gun purchases or theire quick resale to a third party to be specific evidence of criminal intent.  This makes the interdiction of illegal gun sales to the Mexican cartels almost impossible in Arizona.  There is no federal gun trafficking law to guide or prod the state laws prohibiting the sale of guns to criminals.
 The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal
 Katherine Eban

June 27, 2012: 5:00 AM ET

The article begins:

FORTUNE -- In the annals of impossible assignments, Dave Voth's ranked high. In 2009 the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives promoted Voth to lead Phoenix Group VII, one of seven new ATF groups along the Southwest border tasked with stopping guns from being trafficked into Mexico's vicious drug war.


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Brian Lynch is a retired social worker who worked in the areas of adult mental health and child protection for many years. His work brought him into direct contact with all the major social issues of the day and many of our basic social (more...)

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