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Fast And Furious Update

Friday, June 24, 2011

Congressional hearings on BATFE's Fast and Furious program paused last week, after revealing how straw purchasers were allowed to buy up to 2,500 guns for Mexican drug cartels and walk away freely, over the objections of BATFE agents in the field. The pause may be brief, however. A spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which conducted the hearings, said early this week that "The investigations are far from over."

Rep. Issa and others have called for the resignation of BATFE's acting director, Kenneth Melson, who at the very least signed off on allowing straw purchasers to buy guns at gun stores and drive away unimpeded. However, the Los Angeles Times reports that Melson doesn't intend to go down without a fight, and perhaps doesn't intend to go down alone. "I'm not going to be the fall guy on this," Melson is reported to have said.

Melson has an open invitation to testify before Congress, but thus far the Justice Department has not given him permission to do so, and for now the American people are left to draw their own conclusions. But Rep. Issa's office doesn't believe that Melson was the only high-ranking official who knew about and authorized Fast and Furious. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) testified before Rep. Issa's committee that on October 26, 2009, the directors of the FBI, DEA and BATFE, the U.S. Attorneys for the Southwest border states, the Director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, and the Chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee met to consider, among other things, a Justice Department document which said that "seizing firearms through interdiction will not stop firearms trafficking to Mexico. We must identify, investigate, and eliminate the sources of illegally trafficked firearms and the networks that transport them" -- exactly the premise behind Fast and Furious.

Attorney General Eric Holder has already come under scrutiny for his possible role in Fast and Furious, and some have called for his resignation. Early on, Holder claimed he did not authorize the program. But when asked by Rep. Issa who in the Justice Department did authorize it, Holder said that he did not know, an answer that NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre and others say is unacceptable for someone in Holder's position of responsibility.

Referring to the Justice Department's refusal to comply with congressional requests for information that would get to the bottom of the Fast and Furious fiasco, La Pierre told Fox News' Lou Dobbs on Wednesday that "The administration needs to stop the cover-up," adding "Either they were doing this to prop up a political agenda of sending thousands of guns across the border and blaming it on American gun laws . . .  or they were completely incompetent." Holder has asked the Justice Department's nonpartisan Inspector General's Office to investigate Fast and Furious, according to Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich.

On a related point, after the hearings last week Sen. Grassley revealed that statistics provided by BATFE in a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) earlier this month, suggesting that 70 percent of firearms seized from the cartels in Mexico came from the United States, may have been incorrect. Sen. Grassley cited a Department of State cable indicating that only 25 percent of firearms that Mexico asked the BATFE to trace were traced to a final sale by a FFL dealer in the United States, and that may include firearms that BATFE allowed to "walk."

The percentage of U.S.-origin guns among those seized from the cartels is smaller, of course. As the BATFE was careful to explain in the letter to Sen. Feinstein, "The Mexican government does not submit every recovered firearm to ATF for tracing." Firearms that have no U.S. manufacturer or importer markings are usually assumed to have no connection to the U.S., and are not submitted to the BATFE for tracing.

Of course, the question for America is not what percentage of guns seized from the cartels or anyone else in Mexico originated in the United States, or how many firearms sold in the U.S. have been smuggled to the cartels. The question is whether the U.S. can do anything to prevent the cartels from obtaining more guns from the U.S. without imposing gun control measures that are incompatible with the Second Amendment, or that would simply not work.

Using Mexico as the excuse for restrictions that they supported long before today's Mexican drug war, gun control supporters are calling for re-imposition of the federal "assault weapon" ban and a ban on private sales of firearms, but both measures would threaten the right to arms and neither would affect the cartels one whit.

Re-imposing the ban would mean that any brand new AR-15s, AK-47s, and similar firearms that the cartels managed to get from the United States would not have adjustable stocks, flash suppressors or bayonet mounts -- a difference of trifling importance to a drug cartel member. Prohibiting private sales would mean that the cartels' straw purchasers who -- as Fast and Furious demonstrated so painfully -- easily clear NICS checks to buy guns from dealers, would just as easily clear NICS checks to buy guns from private individuals.

One obvious solution would be to get serious about enforcing the law against straw purchasers, something several well-intentioned BATFE agents tried to do, only to be ordered to stand down by their superiors. Another would be to get serious about strengthening border security.

But regardless of what the U.S. does to hammer straw purchasers and gun smugglers on this side of the border, it will not disarm the cartels so long as Americans who use illegal drugs keep the cartels rich enough to buy military weapons from corrupt Mexican government employees, Central American smugglers, and international arms traffickers with no connection to the United States whatsoever.

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