As Mexico’s narco-war continues to spiral out of control, lawmakers and homeland security officials yesterday discussed how to keep American guns from flowing south while acknowledging those weapons have made the Mexican government’s fight against the drug cartels more dangerous.
More than 7,000 people have been killed in the conflict over the past two years, with more than 1,000 killed this year already. The Mexican government says the conflict has become particularly deadly because powerful American weapons illegally flow south from border gun shops.
Since her confirmation, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said she will focus on stopping the flow of guns from the United States into Mexico.
During the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee’s hearing, Mark Koumans, deputy assistant secretary for the Homeland Security Department's office of international affairs, acknowledged that most of the weaponry the cartels’ use come from the United States, according to the Associated Press.
One problem lawmakers identified was which agency was responsible for keeping American arms from fueling the conflict south of the border.
According to Congressional Quarterly (subscription only), many federal agencies would have a part in that task:
For example, illegal sales of firearms that take place in Texas fall under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is part of the Justice Department. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — which is part of Homeland Security— is in charge of enforcement for any guns smuggled to foreign countries.
Determining which agency should have a particular role in stopping gunrunning south, however, led to jurisdictional confusion and frustration, according to the AP.
Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., complained that the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agency is inspecting only 5 percent of the 7,600 federally licensed gun dealers in southwestern states. He asked that homeland security agencies take over this role if ATF can't do the job.
Homeland officials testifying Tuesday said they did not have the authority to do this.
Lawmakers complained that they need to hear from officials from the ATF and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The homeland security subcommittee, however, does not have oversight jurisdiction for those agencies.
The talk of realigning border security responsibilities worried homeland security officials who said they already have countersmuggling initiatives underway, including Operation Firewall, aimed at cash, and Armas Cruzadas, aimed at guns.
ICE Director of Investigations Marcy Forman told lawmakers that current interagency collaborative efforts, such as Border Enforcement Security Task Forces, are the proper way to tackle the gunrunning problem into the future rather than realigning responsibilities.