House Republicans ask for explanation of ATF gun tactics

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A group of House Republicans are demanding the details of a federal investigation that enabled guns suspected of being bought by a drug cartel to slip into Mexico.

The chairman and 13 other GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee asked Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday to explain aspects of the controversial 15-month investigation known as “Fast and Furious.”

“We find it ironic that the government allowed guns to be trafficked into Mexico as part of a program designed to stop guns from being trafficked into Mexico,” said a letter signed by the panel’s chairman, Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and the other Republicans.

There are 23 Republicans and 16 Democrats on the committee. The Republicans who wrote the letter cited coverage of the investigation by the Center for Public Integrity in their letter.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says it allowed suspected straw buyers to purchase weapons over a period of months so it could track where the weapons were going. Bureau officials said they were hoping surveillance of the suspected low-level purchasers would enable them to trace the weapons to higher-level operatives within the Sinaloa cartel.

The Bureau has been seeking a rule change that would require border-state gun dealers to report multiple sales of long guns, as part of a larger effort to stem the flow of weapons to Mexico. The Justice Department says it is still seeking the new rule though the Office of Management and Budget review process, but it could be months before it takes effect; the House, meanwhile, has voted to stop any such rule.

The Republicans said in their letter that they strongly oppose the proposed rule, which they believe would restrict lawful sales of weapons along the border. Many of the guns purchased in the Fast and Furious investigation were military-style AK-47s and 50-caliber rifles.

The committee asked for a response by March 18.