Politics & Policy

ATF Enmeshed in Yet Another Embarrassing Gun-Enforcement Scandal


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives looks more and more like the gang that can’t shoot straight, figuratively speaking. First there were Operations Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious, hair-brained capers in Arizona that resulted in hundreds of contraband firearms moving across the border to Mexico, right under the noses of federal investigators. Agents facilitated the illegal gun sales but failed to track the black-market weapons, and the fiascoes led to congressional investigations and a shake-up of BATFE leadership.

More recently, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has revealed varieties of BATFE incompetence. The Wisconsin paper reported earlier this year that a botched sting in Milwaukee included agents hiring a brain-damaged man to promote an undercover storefront and then arresting him for his work for the government. Called on the carpet in Washington, BATFE officials told lawmakers that the failed Milwaukee sting was an isolated case. Now the Journal Sentinel reports that this just isn’t the case. Agents “employed rogue tactics similar to those used in Milwaukee in every operation from Portland, Ore., to Pensacola, Fla.” Among the findings:

Agents befriended mentally disabled people to drum up business and later arrested them in at least four cities in addition to Milwaukee. In Wichita, Kan., BATFE agents referred to a man with a low IQ as “slow-headed” before deciding to secretly use him as a key cog in their sting. And agents in Albuquerque, N.M., gave a brain-damaged drug addict with little knowledge of weapons a “tutorial” on machine guns, hoping he could find them one.

Agents in several cities openedteens undercover gun- and drug-buying operations in safe zones near churches and schools, allowed juveniles to come in and play video games and teens to smoke marijuana, and provided alcohol to underage youths. In Portland, attorneys for three teens who were charged said a female agent dressed provocatively, flirted with the boys and encouraged them to bring drugs and weapons to the store to sell.

There’s much more of the same. The Journal Sentinel deserves congratulations for its reporting. As for the BATFE, drastic reform seems warranted. Why not take the agency’s better agents and fold them into the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under new leadership, and then just get rid of the bumblers who continue to make a mockery of federal law enforcement?

Barrett_190
Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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