Counter-Arms Trafficking Measures Yield Mixed Results

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Lack of inter-agency cooperation is hindering efforts to stem arms trafficking at the U.S-Mexico border, says a 2009 draft report issued by the Justice Department.NBC sums up the report’s findings regarding the effectiveness of Project Gunrunner, a U.S. task force formed in 2005 that tracks gun smuggling into Mexico. The task force just received $37 million from Congress, and the ATF announced Tuesday that seven new Project Gunrunner teams will be dispatched in key cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, Dallas and Sierra Vista, Arizona, reportedly an important hub for the Sinaloa Cartel. However, the Justice Department’s draft report finds there are “significant weaknesses” in Project Gunrunner, notably, the “ATF does not systematically exchange intelligence with its Mexican and some U.S. partner agencies.” 

This is preoccupying: especially considering that the same groups involved in smuggling arms is probably also involved in drugs and human trafficking, more collaboration between agencies like the ATF, the DEA, Homeland Security, and Mexican offices could only be more helpful than harmful. It looks as though the task force has been relatively effective since its creation: since 2005 Project Gunrunner has seized 6,668 firearms and referred 497 cases to the Justice Department.

But there are other challenges besides the lack of shared intelligence. Not only are offices understaffed in the Southwest U.S. and in Mexico, NBC reports, but weak gun laws have made it difficult for courts to successfully prosecute some arms-trafficking cases. Currently there is no federal law that would notify authorities if large amounts of AK-47s and other semi-automatics are purchased in a short period of time. Existing laws also need to be better enforced, so that rogue gun stores can more easily lose their license. Other solutions appear more short-term. As NBC notes, the White House has not yet nominated a director at the ATF, for fear of riling up the U.S. gun lobby.

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