Tucson, Ariz.– Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today said the recently announced departures of Dennis Burke, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, and Kenneth Melson, acting head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), “should not and must not distract law enforcement from the important work of stopping the flow of dangerous weapons across our borders.”
Grijalva said ATF’s botched Operation Fast and Furious project “has consequences, and we’re seeing some of them now. The worst thing we could do is compound those consequences by making these two public servants the fall guys or taking our eye off the real issue of reducing gun trafficking.” The ongoing investigations of Fast and Furious “should be cleared up as soon as possible so that stopping border smuggling and violence remains a priority,” Grijalva said.
As the Washington Post reported late last year:
A year-long investigation [has] uncovered the names of the top 12 U.S. dealers of guns traced to Mexico in the past two years. Eight of the top 12 dealers are in Texas, three are in Arizona, and one is in California. [. . .] Drug cartels have aggressively turned to the United States because Mexico severely restricts gun ownership. Following gunrunning paths that have been in place for 50 years, firearms cross the border and end up in the hands of criminals as well as ordinary citizens seeking protection. [. . .] What is different now, authorities say, is the number of high-powered rifles heading south – AR-15s, AK-47s, armor-piercing .50-caliber weapons – and the savagery of the violence.
Federal authorities say more than 60,000 U.S. guns of all types have been recovered in Mexico in the past four years, helping fuel the violence that has contributed to 30,000 deaths. Mexican President Felipe Calderon came to Washington in May and urged Congress and President Obama to stop the flow of guns south. U.S. law enforcement has ramped up its focus on gun trafficking along the southwestern border. Arrests of individual gunrunners have surged. But investigators rarely bring regulatory actions or criminal cases against U.S. gun dealers, in part because of laws backed by the gun lobby that make it difficult to prove cases.
Grijalva said Burke “knows very well the legal issues facing Arizona and the Southwest. I hope and believe that his departure will open the way for someone equally capable and committed to justice.”