Mexican legislators joined the chorus of furious lawmakers on both sides of the border, who are asking authorities why U.S. federal agents watched while assault weapons were trafficked to Mexico into the hands of large criminal organizations. Their disgust is understandable, even if a little disingenuous.
“[The operation] is a grave violation of international rights,” Jorge Carlos Ramirez Marin, president of Mexico's lower house of Congress, told the Christian Science Monitor.
The Monitor says the legislators are asking the U.S. and Mexican government to create a special commission to look into the so-called “Operation Fast and Furious” that let hundreds of guns move south during a 15-month period, while the investigators gathered evidence for their case.
The indictments connected to the investigation were unsealed in late January, and several suspected "straw buyers" and middlemen arrested, but not before Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed in a December ambush along the Arizona - Mexico border involving one of those weapons investigators watched go south.
Last month, another Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agent, Jaime Zapata, was killed in Mexico by suspected members of the Zetas criminal gang using a U.S. purchased assault weapon in Mexico. His DHS partner was injured in the assault.
The Mexican foreign ministry has requested “detailed” information on the “Fast and Furious” case, the Monitor report says, leading some to believe that the Mexicans may not have known about it.
U.S. officials are also asking questions. The Justice Department has reportedly ordered an inquiry into the case as whistleblowers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) go public with what they say was a gross mishandling of the case.
The brouhaha began when Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa sent at least two letters to the acting ATF director inquiring about the case.
The truth is that both sides of the border shoulder the blame. The U.S. gun laws are permissive at best, criminal at worst. Efforts to force gun dealers to simply report mass purchases of assault weapons have been repeatedly blocked by gun-control advocates. Yet by law, if handguns are purchased in bulk these same dealers are required to report to the federal authorities.
The incongruity in U.S. legislation deepens when we look at the creative ways in which gun importers wiggle past bans on imports of assault weapons, as detailed in a recent special report by InSight, the Center for Public Integrity, Frontline and the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University.
Mexico has to accept its share of blame as well. Officials there have routinely turned a blind eye to the corruption and gun trafficking rings that exist within their own law enforcement and military ranks.
One former policeman told InSight recently that the Tijuana Cartel regularly took weapons from police stocks to assassinate rivals, then simply returned the stocks to the police barracks.
A former Tijuana Cartel operative told InSight that to get weapons the members of his cell would also turn to the local police, who would simply go to the United States and purchase them. The order, he said, would usually be filled in one day.
What’s more, the push for justice is echoed on both sides of the border. After the arrest of a suspect in the shooting of Agent Zapata, it was revealed that a Mexican judge had released that same suspect on gun charges just two years earlier.
Some of this may change. House Democrats are making a renewed push for legislation requiring gun dealers to report mass purchases of assault weapons.
But it may be futile. In January, the ATF tried to get the White House to implement an emergency measure to limit bulk purchases of assault weapons along the border with Mexico. But the White House said no to the proposal.