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ATF Uses Operation Southbound To Have Inspectors Carry Out Warrantless Searches

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Article first appeared on Ammoland.com

WASHINGTON D.C. –-(Ammoland.com)- In an internal meeting, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) heads have asked Industry Operations Investigators (IOIs) to use their gun store visits to investigate whether firearms are being trafficked to the Southern Border into the hands of Mexican drug cartel members.

Operation Southbound is the program that is supposed to cut firearms trafficking to Mexican drug cartel members and cut off the flow of drugs coming northbound from Mexico. The operation is led by the ATF but is also a joint project with multiple other law enforcement and federal agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of State (DOS).

The U.S. government is working with Mexican law enforcement agencies to trace guns recovered at Mexican crime scenes back to the original purchaser on the U.S. side of the border. The Mexican authorities report the serial numbers of the recovered firearms to the ATF. Then the agency starts an investigation into how the guns ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartel members.

The ATF is now going further in its efforts to stop guns from getting into Mexico.

Some advocates worry that the new initiative violates a long-standing ATF agency policy and could lead to the agency violating the people’s right to due process by doing what amounts to a warrantless search.

The ATF is asking its IOIs to use their official visits to gun shops to examine federal firearms licensed (FFL) dealer’s books and paperwork to look for patterns of guns flowing to the southern border. This new order is an expansion of the IOI’s mission. IOI does not have training in looking for patterns of the illegal flow of firearms to the southern border.

IOIs are supposed to use their inspections to assure that FFLs are complying with record-keeping laws. According to ATF rules laid out in the IOI handbook that Gun Owners of America (GOA) obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the inspectors are not allowed to investigate crimes. Yet, that is what the head brass at the ATF is asking the IOIs to do. That changes the mission of the IOIs from administrative investigations to criminal investigators. IOIs are not law enforcement officers.

The ATF rules say that Special Agents are responsible for executing any criminal investigations, and IOI is expressly prohibited from participating in criminal investigations. The Special Agent would need to get a search warrant for an investigation. The ATF is now using the IOI’s once-a-year visit as a warrantless search. The IOI is told not to inform the FFL holder that they are looking for criminal activity when examining the gun store’s books.

AmmoLand News shared the evidence of the change of the IOI mission with some firearm attorneys familiar with ATF operations.

They worry that this expansion of the IOI mission is a warrantless search and has the potential to become another Fast & Furious-like operation.

AmmoLand News Journalist David Codrea broke the story of Operation Fast & Furious. Starting in 2009 and lasting until 2011, The ATF allowed firearms to flow into Mexico from border states in what is known as “gun-walking.” A man used one of the guns that the ATF allowed to reach the hands of cartel members to kill Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry.

AmmoLand News will continue to investigate Operation Southbound and the expansion of the use of IOIs to look for patterns of criminal activities. If you have more information on this or other inside knowledge to advance our investigative reporting please use our Tip Line.


About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.

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