Hoping to score a major prosecution of Mexican drug lords, federal prosecutors and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives permitted hundreds of guns to be purchased and retained by suspected straw buyers with the expectation they might cross the border and even be used in crimes while the case was being built, according to documents and interviews.To a certain degree, this approach by the ATF speaks to the screwy incentive structure. Catching a big capo makes a career, but is his continued existence worse than thousands of gun sales to straw buyers in terms of public security? Probably not. Yet tamping down on gun sales doesn't eliminate a longstanding menace, it just helps prevent one from emerging to a certain degree, which isn't as heroic a feat, even if it is a more important one.
The decision — part of a Phoenix-based operation code named “Fast and Furious” — was met by strong objections from some front-line agents who feared they were allowing weapons like AK-47s to “walk” into the hands of drug lords and gun runners, internal agency memos show. Indeed, scores of the weapons came back quickly traced to criminal activity.
One of those front-line agents who objected, John Dodson, 39, told the Center for Public Integrity that these guns “are going to be turning up in crimes on both sides of the border for decades.” Dodson said in an interview that “with the number of guns we let walk, we’ll never know how many people were killed, raped, robbed … there is nothing we can do to round up those guns. They are gone.”
Also, the Center for Public Integrity has done great work on gunrunning in recent weeks.