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ATF Director Says More Staff Needed To Fight Gun Smuggling

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Aired 2/8/11

A top federal official says his agency doesn't have enough staff to follow up on leads in gun cases or properly inspect guns shops.

About 55,000 guns found in Mexico were traced back to the United States between 2006 and 2010, according to Ken Melson, director of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Melson said during the same time period, agents in the U.S. seized 10,000 guns headed for Mexico. That's less than a fifth of the U.S. guns confiscated in Mexico.

Melson said a lack of agents means many investigative leads fall by the wayside. He said just 600 agents inspect the nation's more than 120,000 guns shop and review everyone who applies for a firearms license.

"So, you can just see by the ratio, the numbers, that we're not going to be able to do the job we should be doing," he said.

The primary way smugglers run guns south, said Melson, continues to be through border crossings in private vehicles.

"There are thousands of guns going across the border. We're not able to respond to every investigative lead that we have. So, like any agency, we could always use more help. But, we rely on the President to determine the appropriate amount we have," Melson said.

ATF investigations are also hampered because gun shops don't have to tell the authorities when someone buys multiple semi-automatic weapons.

That means U.S. authorities may not know about the sales until Mexican drug cartels have already committed crimes with the guns. Semi-automatics are cartels' favorite weapons.

The White House has delayed until April ATF's attempts to require shops to tip them off.

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