The National Rifle Association (NRA) has asked Congress to investigate allegations that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) allowed thousands of weapons to cross the US border into Mexico, knowing they were likely to be acquired and used by Mexico's drug cartels.
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA, told CBS News that his group has heard from many of its law enforcement members who are outraged at the so-called "gunwalking" by ATF.
"They wanted to prove that there were guns flowing to Mexico, so they set up an illegal pipeline to send guns to Mexico," speculates LaPierre. "When does it stop being law enforcement and start being a criminal enterprise? To prove there's islamic terrorists are they going to start manufacturing and selling explosives? It just makes no sense."
It was ATF agents from the agency's Phoenix office who blew the whistle on the controversial practice to CBS News, to Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and on blogs such as "Clean Up ATF". The gunwalking was allegedly allowed in a case known as "Fast and Furious" out of Phoenix, and also allegely allowed in a case known as "Wide Receiver" out of Tucson and supervised by Phoenix.
Phoenix ATF executive Bill Newell is quoted as having told reporters "Hell, no" when asked if he had ever allowed or approved gunwalking. Since then, ATF and the Department of Justice which oversees the agency have not repeated the firm denial. Justice Department Chief Eric Holder told Congress two weeks ago that the idea of gunwalking is wrong and said he's asked the Inspector General to investigate.
As to why guns would be allowed to walk, something that is normally strictly forbidden, agents say there seemed to be an idea among supervisors that the strategy of letting guns walk to see where they'd end up in Mexico would somehow help them build a big case and take down a major cartel. They were never able to take down a cartel, but the weapons began showing up at crime scenes all over Mexico. Two of them were found at the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December. Authorities are looking for possible links to the death of Customs Agent Jaime Zapata.