Senate backs measure to avoid another gun scandal

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 18, 2011 5:59 PM
Senate backs measure to avoid another gun scandal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate on Tuesday passed a measure aimed at avoiding another botched operation to track guns smuggled from the United States, many of which ended up at crime scenes on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border.

The "Fast and Furious" sting operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was meant to try to slow the flow of weapons to violent drug gangs.

The Senate voted 99-0 for a proposal that would bar the government from using funds to knowingly transfer guns to drug cartels if U.S. law enforcement agencies are not monitoring or controlling the weapons at all times.

The House of Representatives must pass a similar measure before President Barack Obama, a Democrat, can sign it into law. Border security, also tied to illegal immigration and the broader economy, is an important issue as U.S. politicians gear up for elections in November 2012.

The Senate bill amendment was introduced by Texas Republican John Cornyn after the ATF failed to track guns after they were bought by suspected suppliers to Mexican drug cartels in the operation that ran from late 2009 through 2010.

"When 2,000 firearms go missing and at least one is found at the crime scene of a murdered U.S. Border Patrol agent, we must do everything possible to ensure that such a reckless and ill-advised operation like 'Fast and Furious' is not repeated," Cornyn said in a statement earlier this week.

Republican congressional investigators have demanded Attorney General Eric Holder turn over documents and communications about the operation.

Escalating a battle between Holder and the House Oversight Committee, the panel subpoenaed the Justice Department -- which oversees the ATF -- seeking voluminous information from senior Obama administration officials.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan)