ATF Operation Southbound

ATF Operation Southbound is supposedly designed to stop the trafficking of firearms purchased in the United States from turning up in Mexico with the cartels. The Mexican government shares the serial numbers of guns with the ATF, who then traces them back to the original purchaser in the US and begins an investigation into how the guns got south of the border. But there may be some issues involved with the operation, issues of possible warrantless searches that have been raised by John Crump, investigative journalist at Ammoland and Virginia Director of GOA. These issues become even more imperative if David Chipman is confirmed as head of the ATF.

IOI – Industry Operations Investigators

operation southbound

ATF Operation Southbound

The ATF operation is a joint venture with 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).” John Crump obtained information from an internal meeting where the administrative investigators (IOI) were asked to use their once a year visits with FFL holders to look for patterns of criminal activity.

It is possible that the ATF just wants to utilize more personnel for Operation Southbound, but violating their own rules is probably not a good choice.

Operation Southboard – are these warrantless searches?

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.

John Crump, Ammoland

In other words, the ATF is not just attempting to use non-law enforcement people to do criminal investigations, they use them to conduct warrantless searches. According to their own handbook, IOI investigators are not to be used for criminal investigations:

ATF special agents may not send an IOI into a business to obtain criminal evidence on the licensee. The inspection cannot be initiated to further a criminal investigation of the FFL.

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ATF handbook (Scribd document download)

What we have here is something that could turn into a serious problem, particularly if the leadership of the ATF grows even more anti-gun (as in the nomination of David Chipman for ATF Director).

H/T Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children

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