Editorial: Get smarter against gun smugglers
A government watchdog's warning should be taken to heart.
The Government Accountability Office says poor coordination among federal agencies makes gun-running across the U.S.-Mexican border even easier than can be expected, given the ease with which guns can be bought legally in the United States.
The flow of guns to criminal drug cartels on the other side of the porous border presents an urgent threat. The U.S. government needs to treat it as such.
The extreme violence of these illegal drug syndicates is wreaking havoc in the national life of an ally and neighbor. That should be reason enough for America to do all legally within its power to identify and break up gun-smuggling rings.
If further motivation is needed, policymakers should ponder the fact that -- like the illegal drug trade that accounts for both the reason and means behind the gun buys -- the violence will be impossible to contain.
A draft of the GAO report, leaked last week to news organizations, cites intelligence reports that the cartels have armed themselves not only against the Mexican government, but to gain and maintain control of illegal drug distribution in the U.S.
Legal gun sales in this country facilitate this illicit trade.
According to federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data collected over the past three years, more than 90 percent of firearms traced after being seized in Mexico are from the United States.
It's hardly a mystery where many of them come from. The ATF agent in charge of its Houston division noted in a New York Times story in April there are about 1,500 licensed gun dealers in that area alone.
They are required to report suspicious sales of handguns, but not of rifles, like AK-47s. Many, perhaps most, dealers do so anyway, but with so many outlets to buy from, the cartels easily arrange straw sales that appear innocent.
Then there are the private sales at gun shows, which in some border states, as in Virginia, require no criminal background check.
With all the legal barriers law enforcement agencies face, they need to deploy every resource efficiently to slow the illegal trade.
The GAO report specifically blames poor communication between ATF and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for undermining gun-running investigations.
Spokesmen for the two agencies say they are updating an agreement on joint investigations. Immediately would not be too soon.