DHS has denied the bean-bag gun allegations, saying agents are trained to use "less-than-lethal force" weapons but that no specific orders overriding the best judgment of agents have come down from management.
Similarly, the Department of Justice initially denied that ATF knowingly allowed guns to be sold to drug runners, a statement contradicted by later reports from whistleblowers and admissions from officials that the agency did lose track of hundreds of guns as part of Operation Fast and Furious.
The events in Peck Canyon place into sharp relief the political problems of managing the increasingly violent borderlands between the US and Mexico, where treatment of illegal immigrants on the US side and the flow of arms from the US into Mexico have become powder keg issues in the relationship between the two countries.
"This is a management issue in both cases," says Mark Krikorian, director of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies. "The bean bag thing is a symbol of fake border enforcement, where this administration wants to go through the motions of border enforcement without actually doing it. An ordinary agent is not going to say, 'Let's shoot bean bags first’ if they've got guns. I also can't imagine an ATF guy getting a call from a gun store where they say, ‘Hey, someone is buying a bunch of AKs, it smells bad,' and where that agent then says, 'No problem.' "
Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has led the congressional criticism of Operation Fast and Furious, saying recently that "it's time to step back" and reassess the operation.