Thursday, February 3, 2011
The main U.S. government agency in charge of controlling the flow of illegal guns into Mexico will face serious budget cuts. But critics say the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has been struggling with those efforts for a long time.
SAN DIEGO The ATF cutbacks were proposed by the White House three weeks before the Tucson shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
As the agency in charge of enforcing federal gun laws, ATF would lose nearly 13 percent of its $1.25 billion annual budget. This figures to have a significant impact on efforts to stop the traffic of guns into Mexico.
Many assault rifles that go to Mexico are imported from abroad, especially, from Eastern European countries. Existing gun laws limit those imports, but little is done to trace the powerful rifles back to trafficking networks.
"ATF has always been extremely underfunded and understaffed -- there are more FBI agents in New York than there are ATF agents in the world," says Diaz. "Now, if you cut back even more, it becomes really on life support."
According to Diaz, ATF's "Project Gunrunner" has done little to reduce the availability of guns in the U.S. and Mexico. ATF could not be reached for comment, but on its website, the agency acknowledges that gun trafficking has been a problem along all border states for the last decade.
"I have the highest regard for the ATF agents in the field; they do very dangerous work and they do it very well," says Diaz. "But at the headquarters level, the leaders of ATF are very reluctant to get into any fight, whether it's political, regulatory, administrative. They just want to get along with everybody."