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November 7, 2011

High Ranking DOJ Official Admits Knowing About Guns Walking; Blames Retailers and Calls for Gun Control


Last week Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, the Justice Department’s top criminal division official, acknowledged in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism that he knew about ATF “walking guns” (i.e. allowing firearms to be illegally purchased and smuggled) in early 2010. Mr. Breuer is the highest ranking DOJ official to acknowledge awareness of this flawed investigative tactic. He  called it “unacceptable and misguided.” Mr. Breuer’s team voiced concern that the operation could prove “embarrassing” to ATF and the Department. Though Mr. Breuer regrets not doing more to stop the gun-walking program, he didn’t hesitate during his testimony to blame law-abiding firearm retailers for contributing to Mexico’s problems and calling for multiple sales reporting of long guns.

Mr. Breuer’s call for gun control goes against concrete data showing that very few retailers ever sold firearms that were later recovered in Mexico. In a recently released ATF document titled United States Source Locations for Firearms with a Mexico Recovery (ATF, Violent Crime Intelligence Division, Violent Crime Analysis Branch), only 40 United States source locations were associated with 2,381 traces between December 2006 and June 2010.

ATF also released new data showing that the average age of recovered firearms (Dec. 2006 – August 2010) in Mexico was more than 15 years old – clearly these firearms have not been purchased recently in the United States. Furthermore, ATF data shows that 21 percent of Mexican trace requests are, in fact, duplicates — with some firearms being resubmitted for tracing as many as five times. In addition, 75 percent of the firearm traces are not successful, and only eight percent lead to an investigation. Considering that eight percent, remember what ATF has repeatedly warned — that the tracing of a firearm (or the opening of an investigation) in no way indicates criminal wrong-doing by either the retailer or the first purchaser of the firearm.

Operation Fast and Furious demonstrates many things, including that firearms retailers actively cooperated with ATF. What it certainly doesn’t demonstrate, however, is a need for additional gun-control measures.

— The documents mentioned in this post are available via the United States Government Pacer System (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), case number: 1:11-cv-01401-RMC