ATF knowingly permitted U.S. guns to be illegally shipped to Mexico

Monday, May 9th, 2011

I heard about this story on NPR and had some ambivalence about whether to post about it.   Essentially, the ATF is being accused of permitting 1300+ guns to be purchsed by straw buyers and shipped to drug gangs in Mexico.     Straw buyers are middlemen who can buy guns in the U.S. without raising a bunch of red flags and then resell them to people who can’t.

But, Fox News is reporting that some of the straw buyers were actually ATF agents, making he U.S. government an actual participant rather than just an observer.    According to the story, two .50 caliber machine guns were transferred this way.

Stories like this always make me wonder how much of the crime we hear about is actually facilitated by law enforcement.    It seems like cops are using the sting strategy as a replacement for investigative techniques a lot these days.    It’s easier to con someone into committing a crime than it is to actually track someone down who already committed a crime when no one was looking.   So, now we have cops  passing themselves off as children online to snare possible predators, cops distributing child porn to trap buyers, cops posing as prostitutes selling sex on Craigslist,  cops acting as suppliers of explosives to wouldbe terrorists, and now cops selling guns to drug cartels.    At the more local level, there are women cops posing as street walkers and male cops soliciting prostitutes.  The list just goes on and on.  If that weren’t enough, the mainstream news media are conducting their own sensationalistic stings (NBC’s To Catch a Predator) and, at least in the case of the Craigslist prostitutes, research organizations posing as child hookers as part of a junk science study.

Given the uproar over the supposition that Mexican drug cartels are getting their guns from the U.S., this seems like yet another stunning example of drug war idiocy.

[Posted by Dave Krueger]

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36 Responses to “ATF knowingly permitted U.S. guns to be illegally shipped to Mexico”

  1. #1 |  Marty | 

    another proud moment for the ATF…

  2. #2 |  Michael Pack | 

    Can anyone tell me who sells .50 cal machine guns to civilians?I’m guessing many guns come from U.S. aid,taken by the Mexican Army deserters and those in the army working for the cartels.

  3. #3 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “At the more local level, there are women cops posing as street walkers and male cops soliciting prostitutes. ”

    Just for kicks, I sometimes pose as a John posing as a cop who is posing as a John. When they run it through their computer, the whole system shuts down.

  4. #4 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    Incidentally, sting operations are illegal in most countries. We oughta
    go that route. This is getting ridiculous.

  5. #5 |  Mannie | 

    Remember when we referred to the tyrannical state security agencies behind the Iron Currtain as The Secret Police?

  6. #6 |  Mannie | 

    Transfer of Class 3 weapons (Automatic weapons etc.) requires a lot of documentation. Of course the Government can produce its own paperwork and expedite the approval.

    The senior person who knew about Gunrunner ought to be indicted. Hell, he ought to be hanged. Watch me hold my breath.

  7. #7 |  Poly the Tick | 

    This should have been headline news back around December when David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh broke the story.

    But why should anyone ever listen to those militia types?

  8. #8 |  Bob | 

    “Can anyone tell me who sells .50 cal machine guns to civilians?”

    It’s perfectly legal for civilians to buy these, you just need the proper licensing and paperwork, which takes months to get, and is quite a feat. You pretty much have to sign over any privacy rights you might have as part of the process.

    Apparently, these guys simply ginned up the paperwork for the straw buyers (Who were BATF agents) and sold .50 Cal Machine guns to Mexican Drug Cartels.

    (Voice of Chief Wiggums) That’s good work, boys.

  9. #9 |  MadRocketScientist | 

    I know for a fact that a lot of the guns in Mexico come from the US! How do I know this? Same way I knew Iraq had the stuff to make WMDs, from the receipts the CIA & the US State Department had when they gave/sold the equipment to those governments.

  10. #10 |  Henry Bowman | 

    #6 and #8:

    Although it’s certainly legal to purchase a .50-cal machine gun, it normally takes a long time due to all the paperwork involved. My guess is that the report is simply incorrect: someone purchased a couple of semi-auto Barrett .50-cal rifles. Always keep in mind that the so-called journalists who report this stuff typically know as much about firearms as a pet rock.

  11. #11 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    The BATF has been an ongoing clusterf*ck since its beginnings. It has a name for high profile arrests that result in no convictions because of botched procedures – or plain lack of a crime. They have the charming habit of dragging appeals of a virtually non-existant case through the court system until the accused has to give up because they’ve run him out of money. It is a nexus of cowboys and empire builders, and should be shut down, not to say razed (assuming it has its own headquarters building) and the ground sown with salt.

  12. #12 |  Mattocracy | 

    I used to work at a gun range and we had a cop attempt a straw buy for his buddy who was with him in the store. This wasn’t a sting. And when we told said pig that what he was doing was illegal, he said it was cool since he was a cop…

  13. #13 |  Rhayader | 

    Funny, I was just watching “To Catch a Predator” last night with my girlfriend, talking a little about this stuff. You couldn’t find a less sympathetic group of victims to be sure, but I still get a little queasy thinking about a person having his life ruined after being convinced by the police (or someone acting on their behalf) to attempt a crime.

    The most-abused sting is, of course, the drug case “buy-bust”, a tactic for which there is no defense whatsoever.

  14. #14 |  Pablo | 

    “To catch a predator” was a great example of sensationalistic ambush journalism. I think one or two such episodes would have served a good purpose by altering people to the real (albeit exaggerated) risk of online predators. Beyond that it was merely a sadistic exercise in voyeurism.

    I remember watching a couple of episodes (stopped after that) and seeing the target exit the home peacefully, to be confronted at gunpoint and tackled by a mob of beefy cops, like he was Charles Manson.

  15. #15 |  Danny | 

    No way were machine guns, .50 cal or otherwise, part of the operation. That is a straight-up goof on the part of the reporters. Maybe a couple of .50 cal sniper rifles, maybe.

  16. #16 |  Anthony | 

    You can buy parts for M2 .50 cal machine guns fairly easy. And semiautomatic versions, to be modified later, as well.

  17. #17 |  Greg | 

    This is a coupla months old story.

    If anyone wishes to read more about this, head over to – they have good data/discussion about the finer points of this this latest government cluster as well as links back to the rather obscure blog that broke the story.

    99 out of 100 times Dave…

  18. #18 |  MacGregory | 

    First, let me say I detest thieves and thievery. However one of the most insipid stings I ever saw was on an episode of “Cops.” The pigs placed an unlocked, very nice, very expensive bicycle on a sidewalk near a convenience store. Then sat nearby, video rolling until some poor sap took it. Of course, the value of the bike was just enough to make it a felony.

    Apparently, there had been similar crimes in this neighborhood leading to this action. But as Dave alluded, it’s much easier to create a crime that solves itself than to investigate a real one.

  19. #19 |  Dante | 

    “Stories like this always make me wonder how much of the crime we hear about is actually facilitated by law enforcement. ”

    I’ve often wondered about this, also. How much “crime” is manufactured by the “crime fighters” who are simply grand-standing? 25%? 50%? 75%? How much money do these operations cost? How much real (not manufactured) crime do they eliminate?

    What other organization, charged with eliminating a public menace, goes out of their way to CREATE more of the public menace just so they can then stomp on their illicit creation and hold a press conference in which they brag about “protecting” the public and saving the children.

    Imagine a plumber who came to your house and stopped up your toilets, just so he could get the paying gig to un-clog your toilets.

    Imagine a doctor who sold you “health” pills which made you sick just so he could sell you more pills to counteract the first ones.

    Why do we continue to tolerate this?

    Because they have guns & badges & bad intentions, and are not held accountable under the laws they enforce. Speaking out against them can and will get you jailed/beaten/killed.

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  20. #20 |  Tam | 

    Speaking as somebody who worked for many years in the retail gun business, the backstory here is infuriating.

    In this whole “Gunwalker” fiasco, there were multiple cases of a guy with a shady story walking into a gun store in the border states there and trying to buy a half dozen or more identical guns at a time, and the proprietor would smell something funny and contact the BATF, and report that they were pretty sure the dude was up to no good and what should they do?

    “Let him buy them” they were told.

    Next thing you know, the guns are on the news as the centerpiece “junk on the bunk” display about law enforcement catching US-sourced guns in Mexican gang hands.

    Essentially, these guys are being knifed in the back by the regulatory agency in charge of their industry.

  21. #21 |  Highway | 

    #18 Macgregory: And then people complain that *WAL-MART* will entice people into getting criminal records. At least Wal-Mart isn’t out there with borderline entrapment.

    Wasn’t there some story about a police department putting out wallets and then arresting folks for picking them up and not turning them in soon enough or complete enough?

  22. #22 |  Highway | 

    Dante, some firemen do the same thing, but at least that’s not openly condoned by the fire department.

  23. #23 |  Robert | 

    If you had to come up with criminal activity to police to guarantee your paycheck and you had absolute immunity and power….what would YOU do?

  24. #24 |  EH | 

    Greg@17: If you’re anything more than blogspam, it would be nice if you were a little more specific than a front page URL for a site that has posted 10 articles so far today.

  25. #25 |  Robert | 

    @18: I feel no sympathy for crooks stung in this fashion as it is a property crime. The person they got was most likely guilty of the same offense in the past where they were not caught. Nobody twisted that persons arm and made them walk up and steal that bike.

    This kind of sting for consensual crimes ( drugs / prostitution ) is abbhorent though.

  26. #26 |  scott | 

    If you’re anything more than blogspam, it would be nice if you were a little more specific than a front page URL for a site that has posted 10 articles so far today.

    I don’t know Greg but I can attest that this story has been percolating for months at various 2A blogs, and TTAG has some delicious linky love. David Codrea has been doing yeoman’s work at his Examiner site: (his is probably the best place to go for aggregated news on the subject). is also useful, as is

    Rep. Issa has been absolutely hammering the DoJ and the BATF who, in turn, have been utterly contemptuous of any subpoenas issued them. I’m frankly surprised that NPR picked up on the story, but then I’m surprised that this is getting any national attention at all.

  27. #27 |  JS | 

    Mattocracy “And when we told said pig that what he was doing was illegal, he said it was cool since he was a cop…”

    What happened then?

  28. #28 |  Phelps | 

    The ATF would have to be involved in any machine gun sales, because a tax stamp is required to transfer machine guns manufactured before 1986 under the National Firearms Act of 1934, and you have to be law enforcement or military to buy any newer than that.

    I think it is more likely that they bought .50 semi-automatic long-range rifles, which are just like any other civilian rifle, but fire .50 machine gun ammunition (one bullet per trigger pull.)

    You can buy parts for M2 .50 cal machine guns fairly easy. And semiautomatic versions, to be modified later, as well.

    No. You can buy some parts for M2s fairly easily, but you cannot buy a full auto capable receiver, or any part of a full auto trigger group. The semi-auto versions of those parts cannot be modified to work with full auto components without so much modification that you might as well manufacture a full auto version new.

    The myth of easily convertible to FA guns are just that — myths. Civilian market guns are actually manufactured to be nearly impossible to modify to full auto.

  29. #29 |  megs | 

    The whole idea of cops perpetrating/facilitating criminal activity makes me think of the broken window theory. Aren’t they encouraging crime by making it look like there’s more crime?

  30. #30 |  Greg | 


    When I was a young man and wanted to learn something by reading about it, I had to go to the library. When someone pointed out a good book on a subject of interest, I was ahead of the game.

    Ergo, I have pointed you to a valid source, that can easily be searched for the data relative to our discussion at hand. It will also lead you to tangential sources and opinions that you can mine for even more depth of knowledge.

    If I have to open the book to a specific page and read it out loud and spoon feed you the plain yogurt, I’ll pass, thanks. If you are not motivated enough to tap a few more buttons on a keyboard to do research on a topic once actually at a data source, it obviously doesn’t matter much.

    #26 scott,

    Nice to see someone else can do their own homework. FWIW, don’t be surprised that NPR picked this up. Though they have their mushy moments, NPR has also run stories and interviews with those who would be considered very pro-gun over the years. Yup, hard science intellectuals who analyze the data and conclude that most (not all, but most) anti-gun stuff is disingenuous at best, propaganda at worst.

  31. #31 |  Elliot | 

    @Poly the Tick (#7) — I was going to say that.

    Vanderboegh and Codrea, then Michelle Malkin and CBS have been covering this for some time now.

    Why are writers at acting like this is new news?

    It’s called project “gunwalker” (a pun on the ATF’s designation of project “gunrunner”).

    Remember all the headlines about how a high percentage of guns found at crime scenes in Mexico were from the US? Those percentages were flat-out misrepresented—they had nothing to do with the total number of guns, nor even with the total number of US-manufactured guns. Most weapons were MILITARY weaponry which the US government sold to the Mexican military, from which deserters and thieves transfered guns to the cartels. But American politicians who oppose the right of Americans to keep and bear the most effective means of self defense saw the opportunity to leverage the problems in Mexico to give them an excuse to “clamp down” on gun sales in the US.

    The ATF engaged in this scandalous project for the express purpose of inflating those numbers.

    Think of it in terms of Gulf of Tonkin, or Reichstag fire.

    Except this time, the arsonists got caught with the matches in hand.

    Unfortunately, most news organizations are yawning and giving it little, if any, attention.

  32. #32 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #31 Elliot

    Why are writers at acting like this is new news?

    Please accept my most humble apology. This story has been getting air time on cable news and I admit I was blindly seduced by the fact the stories I was actually posting about were from the last few days. Shame on me. Selfishly, it didn’t even occur to me that this post could reflect badly on other “writers at”. Let the record show that I am solely to blame for this embarrassing calamity. I promise to be more careful in the future.

  33. #33 |  Greg | 

    #32 Dave,

    I think Elliot was pointing out that this is a (relatively speaking) old story and that there is no new news here.

    A cursory glance at google and perhaps prefacing the article with a “this a story that’s been around for a while but seems to be flying under the radar here ya go” kind of intro would have been helpful.

    Don’t get me wrong, ’tis a perfect subject for this forum. But without any new info, this subject has already been thrashed about in the blogosphere for the last many weeks.

  34. #34 |  Tam | 

    #32 Dave,

    Ah. This is sarcasm, then?

  35. #35 |  NoelArmourson | 

    Project Gunrunner is a BATFE initiative approved at the highest levels of the current administration of the .gov (DOJ, White House) with the stated but unrealizable objective of apprehending criminal gang leaders and an apparent real objective of undermining the 2nd amendment through further sales and reporting regulations and lobbying for stronger gun control laws.
    Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was under orders to fire beanbag rounds, was killed with a “walked” rifle during a nighttime confrontation with bandits. I’ve not read any estimates of the numbers of Mexicans or other Americans killed by the guns purchased under ATF supervision in the U.S.
    The Mexican government was never informed about the operation, making it into an international incident which could possibly be considered an act of war (arming enemy combatants).
    Just coincidentally, it was after this came to light that Secretary of State Clinton announced in no uncertain terms that she would not serve another term with the administration.

  36. #36 |  Elliot | 

    @Dave Kruger (#32) – Apology accepted. Just don’t do it again, or I shall cancel my RSS feed and demand that Radley beat you with a police baton.

    But seriously, I should have written my comment (#31) a bit differently. My frustration is with the fact that this major scandal has been, as Greg (#33) put it, “flying under the radar”, not with you.