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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

April 28, 2009

Acting Director Kenneth Melson’s Remarks for Gun Runner Impact Teams Rollout ATF Houston Field Division Tuesday, April 28, 2009

For more than 30 years, ATF has been at the frontline in the fight against violent crime. Although I am less than three weeks in the job as Acting Director of this proud federal law enforcement agency — as a career federal prosecutor, I have been well aware of its diverse and important mission.

Breaking up firearms trafficking rings; putting organized gangs behind bars; and halting the diversion of legal commodities to the black market have been staples of ATF’s law enforcement efforts. I’m honored to be a part of this agency.

The violent crime we are witnessing on the U.S.–Mexico border is a microcosm of the gun violence plaguing much of America — from urban neighborhoods to heartland communities. Narcotics trafficking fuels firearms-related violent crime across our country, not just on the Southwest Border.

But the violence on the Border is concentrated and financed by powerful drug trafficking organizations with a penchant for making blood money and shattering lives by using guns illegally.

ATF recognized the upward trend in violent, criminal acts along the Border and created a strategy to address it.

In partnership with other U.S. agencies and the Government of Mexico, ATF developed Project Gunrunner as a pilot initiative around 2005. Realizing its success, ATF nationalized the effort a little more than a year ago, in January 2008, to stem the flow of firearms into Mexico and reduce violence on both sides of the border.

We have experienced real results through Project Gunrunner, with more cases being developed annually and an increasing number of defendants being referred for prosecution.

ATF uses intelligence gleaned from its firearms trace data and other sources to place special agents strategically in geographic areas along the entire border — to deny firearms, the “tools of the trade,” to criminal organizations in Mexico.

Ever turning up the heat on cartels, our law enforcement and military partners in the government of Mexico have been working more closely with ATF by sharing information and intelligence. Most dramatically has been the increase in firearms trace submissions to ATF.

That information is allowing us to identify trafficking patterns, trends and organizations on both sides of our shared border.

In fact, ATF has been so successful at developing leads that just a few months ago, we saw the need to relocate experienced, human resources from other parts of the country to this south Texas region to follow up on that information.

Today, I am pleased to announce the deployment of our Gun Runner Impact Teams, referred to in-house as GRITs, to the ATF Houston Field Division.

More than 100 ATF veteran special agents, industry operations investigators, analysts and support personnel will spend the next 120 days developing cases against firearms traffickers; as part of this intelligence-driven supplemental initiative to Project Gunrunner.

The GRITs will be implemented in three phases. In Phase One, special agents will follow up on existing firearms trafficking leads which were developed primarily by recovered and traced firearms from Mexico. These leads will be prioritized according to their investigative potential.

The deployment of additional industry operations investigators will allow the inspection of 700 more federal firearms licensees in the region.

In Phase Two, the information developed as a result of Phase One interviews and FFL inspections will be the basis for initiating new and comprehensive firearms trafficking investigations.

Phase Three will be the conclusion of this initiative, as criminal case referrals for prosecution in the U.S. and Mexico, indictments and arrests take place.

ATF will continue tracing firearms recovered in Mexico, which may indicate an increase or decrease in the number of U.S. sourced firearms.

The GRITs will likely increase the number of firearms and other evidence interdicted, recovered or seized by ATF and other U.S. law enforcement agencies acting on ATF information.

ATF has been fighting violent crime using all the investigative, regulatory and legislative tools available to us. In the arena of law enforcement intelligence, nothing has been more valuable than firearms trace data.

Though no one in U.S. law enforcement knows definitively the numbers of guns recovered and seized by the government of Mexico annually, ATF has gathered important firearms trafficking information from the number of firearms Mexico does submit each year.

We applaud our partners in Mexico for stepping up their efforts to trace more firearms.

When it comes to crime gun tracing, ATF’s goal for Mexico is the same as for our domestic law enforcement partners. Comprehensive tracing, or 100 percent tracing of crime guns, would give law enforcement a very clear picture of who the traffickers are, what routes they use and how they develop their schemes for trafficking illicit firearms.

ATF understands the importance of keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals and prohibited persons. We will continue to work closely with the firearms industry through our joint “Don’t Lie For the Other Guy” campaign.

Federal firearms licensees must realize they are at the frontline with ATF in keeping legal commodities in America — firearms — out of the hands of criminals.

We are educating licensed gun dealers, through seminars and compliance inspections, along the Southwest Border at a pace that will ensure all are touched by ATF within a three-year period. That’s important, because ATF realizes the importance of denying the drug cartels the tools of the trade that they use to cause violence and death.

ATF prides itself on the strength of its relationships with law enforcement partners at every level of government throughout the United States. The Southwest Border is clearly one of the most important areas where we rely on these relationships to improve safety and security.

The success of Project Gunrunner and the Gun Runner Impact Teams depend on the cooperation and information sharing among ATF, DEA, FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as ICE, CBP and state and local law enforcement agencies.

Only by working together with all our law enforcement partners will ATF be able to effectively combat firearms trafficking and firearms-related violent crime to keep America safe.

I commend the leadership of the ATF Houston Field Division — Special Agent in Charge Dewey Webb, Assistant Special Agents in Charge Rob Elder and Armando Salas, and Director of Industry Operations Russel Vander Werf. They are leading the charge in this region to keep America safe from drug trafficking organizations.

With Gun Runner Impact Teams personnel, ATF has drawn a line in the sand against violent crime in Texas and the entire country.

Thank you. I will answer your questions at this time.