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The Big Question Is: Who Knew?

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In total, the witness statements and the findings of the staff report paint a shocking picture of an operation that intentionally allowed thousands of guns to end up in the hands of some of the most violent criminals in North America. It also showed that senior officials of the BATFE, and not just regional or local supervisors, approved of the operation and received regular reports on its progress. (Acting BATFE director Kenneth Melson even wanted to know how he could log in from his office to watch online video feeds from the bureau’s surveillance cameras in gun stores.)

What remains to be answered, however, is who really approved this operation. And the Justice Department does not appear willing to provide that answer.

Since the story of this reckless operation became known, the Department of Justice has refused to fully respond to congressional inquiries. Both Rep. Issa and Sen. Grassley have repeatedly had their requests for information denied. And even now, when the full seriousness of the scandal is becoming known, the department continues to stonewall.

Chairman Issa pointed out that even the information that has been provided is heavily redacted, with most of the key information blacked out.

One exchange between Rep. Issa and Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich at the hearings clearly shows the ongoing refusal of the DOJ to cooperate:

Chairman Issa: “Who authorized this program that got people killed? Who here in Washington authorized it?”

Weich: “We don’t know.”

“We don’t know” is simply not an acceptable answer, but Weich is not the first to use it.

Attorney General Eric Holder gave the same answer when asked the same question a few weeks before. After so many months of scandal and scrutiny, it seems hard to believe the Attorney General still can’t—or won’t—answer this simple question.

As NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told Fox News’ Lou Dobbs in June, “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.”

Either way, those who approved this operation, and all those who should have known about it and failed to stop it, are responsible for the operation’s horrendous outcome. And that certainly includes Attorney General Holder.

At the core of this scandal is the effort to politicize BATFE’s law enforcement activities and to take advantage of yet another crisis to achieve a political agenda: the passage of new gun control laws.

The explosion of violence in Mexico as the various drug cartels fight with each other and with the Mexican government is a serious problem. But rather than focusing on ways to fight the cartels, anti-gun politicians in the U.S. have focused their efforts on American gun laws and the rights protected by the Second Amendment. And anti-gun groups and media outlets have tried to deflect attention from the scandal by blaming gun owners for blocking anti-gun laws.

All of these people are using the violence in Mexico as an excuse to promote the gun restrictions that they supported long before today’s drug war—restrictions such as the re-imposition of the semi-auto ban and a ban on private sales of firearms between law-abiding Americans. Both measures would threaten the right to arms, but neither would affect the cartels one bit.

The real solutions to the violence in Mexico will not be found in new restrictions on law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Rampant drug abuse by Americans, widespread corruption in Mexico and a serious lack of effective border security have created an environment where drug cartels have billions of dollars to finance their wars.

Yet while none of those problems can be solved easily, one thing is clear: American law enforcement agencies must never be allowed to make the situation worse. Reckless operations like “Fast and Furious” must never be allowed to happen again. That will take not only a leadership change at the Justice Department and BATFE, but legislative reform. And that means it will be time once again for NRA members to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

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