US gun-tracing program in Mexican drug war comes under congressional fire
Allegations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed US arms to flow to Mexican cartels are now facing congressional scrutiny, including questions about whether that may have contributed to the deaths of a US law enforcement officer and numerous Mexicans.
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But at the very least, the Columbus case hints at how difficult it became to trace the walking guns, says Dave Kopel, a Second Amendment expert at the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo. The whereabouts of some 1,400 Fast and Furious guns remain unknown.Skip to next paragraph
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In January 2010, Border Patrol agents near Columbus stopped two locals, Blas “Woody” Gutierrez, a town councilor, and Miguel Carillo, and found a cache of eight guns in their trunk, six of which were among the Fast and Furious collection. Nothing suspicious came up when the agents attempted to trace their provenance, but, as it emerged five months later, six of the guns were linked to Operation Fast and Furious.
The original source of the pair’s weapons, an alleged straw buyer known to BATFE named Jaime Avila, has been tied to two WASR-10 rifles found near the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed by bandits in a shootout near Nogales, Ariz. in December 2010. Bureaucratic delays apparently led to the registration numbers of the Columbus guns not being entered into a federal database in time for the Border Patrol to get the information and alert BATFE.
Though the connection to Fast and Furious is not mentioned in the indictments against the Columbus 11, the details of that link were established by CPI through interviews with government officials, agency memos, and court records.
In a June 24, 2011 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, who are heading up a Congressional investigation of Fast and Furious, demanded for the second time details about the Columbus traffic stop as well as a reported Border Patrol stop of Jaime Avila last summer where he had in his possession the two weapons later found at the scene of the Terry murder.
"Why were these individuals not arrested?" Messrs. Issa and Grassley ask.
Letting the two men go after the January 2010 traffic stop had dire consequences. In February of this year, one of the Fast and Furious guns that had been in their possession, a Ruger pistol, was reportedly used in a murder in Palomas, Mexico, a stone's throw across the border from Columbus. That revelation fuels claims by Issa and Grassley that Operation Fast and Furious not only didn't stop the flow of guns, but contributed to border violence.