By Chris W. Cox
NRA-ILA Executive Director
The Obama administration has now launched its first official attempt to impose new gun controls. The long wait may have been for the sake of political expedience, but the timing was not of the president’s choosing. Rather, the new restriction is an effort to divert attention from the incredible failures of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) in the disastrous international scandal known as “Fast and Furious.” And it makes clear that BATFE’s crime-fighting priorities are way off target.
Starting at the end of July, BATFE sent letters to licensed gun dealers in the four border states, declaring that the stores must report the sale, to any one buyer within five business days, of any two or more semi-automatic rifles larger than .22 cal. that can accept detachable magazines. The agency claims this will help identify straw purchases of firearms that may be destined for Mexican drug cartels.
Of course, BATFE already knows plenty about such purchases, because gun dealers have been voluntarily reporting them for months—but under “Fast and Furious,” the agency has been secretly directing the most suspicious of these sales to proceed. As many as 2,000 guns were transferred to suspected straw purchasers. BATFE then stood by while many of these guns were smuggled into Mexico and supplied to the cartels—a practice the bureau calls “limited or delayed interdiction.” Hundreds of these guns have been recovered at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including at the murder scenes of two federal agents. But nearly 1,500 of the guns remain missing.
There is so much that is wrong with this operation that it could fill every page of this magazine. Indeed, two highly critical reports have been issued by congressional investigators, and more are forthcoming. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has convened two hearings of his powerful Oversight and Government Reform Committee on this operation, with more to come. Meanwhile, officials at the White House and the Department of Justice have denied authorizing the scheme.
Thanks to courageous BATFE whistleblowers, the incredible facts are becoming clear. Early in the Obama administration, the BATFE office in Phoenix became the hub of an investigation intended to identify the drug kingpins in Mexico who were smuggling firearms from the U.S. The bureau even opened an office in Mexico City.
But in what one staffer in the Mexico office called the “perfect storm of idiocy,” stateside agents not only stood idly by while guns were smuggled, but also didn’t inform their colleagues in Mexico. In 2009, the BATFE officials stationed in Mexico began to notice a large volume of guns recovered from violent crime scenes that were traced to retailers around Phoenix. This was their first indication of the fallout from “Fast and Furious.”
When the Mexico City BATFE officials expressed concern, they were told that everything was “under control.” As stated in a congressional report, “ATF personnel in Arizona denied ATF personnel in Mexico access to crucial information about the case.”
So the illicit gun sales continued with BATFE’s blessing. But BATFE officials in Phoenix refused to arrest or prosecute the buyers, calling them the “lowest rung on the ladder” and claiming that the prosecutions would result in a light penalty or none at all. (Bear in mind that a single violation of the straw purchasing law can bring a prison sentence of 10 years and a fine of $250,000.)
Having allowed thousands of guns to be sold and trafficked to known or suspected smugglers, the agency now wants to know every time a rancher decides to buy two new varmint guns on a single trip to his local gun store. (Meanwhile, the crime data clearinghouse at Syracuse University reports that federal prosecutions for firearm violations are at their lowest level since January 2001. January 2011 saw a 7.9 percent drop from January 2010, and prosecutions are down almost 30 percent from five years ago.)
All of this helps explain why NRA is opposed to the new BATFE rule. But besides its futility, the agency also has no legal authority to demand the information. So we are preparing lawsuits to block the “demand letters,” and we are supporting legislation to block funding for them, too.
There is much more to be written about “Fast and Furious,” and it remains to be seen whether Congress or the courts will overturn the new reporting requirement for rifles.
But in the meantime, if anyone tries to tell you the issues aren’t related, or that they aren’t part of the same push for gun control, just remember: The BATFE had to request official permission from the White House to issue the reporting regulation. So contrary to its protests otherwise, it’s awfully hard to believe the BATFE created and implemented the “Fast and Furious” gun smuggling operation all on its own.
James W. Porter II, PRESIDENT
Allan Cors, FIRST VICE PRESIDENT
Pete Brownell, SECOND VICE PRESIDENT
Wayne LaPierre, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT
Edward J. Land Jr., SECRETARY
Wilson H. Phillips Jr., TREASURER
Kyle Weaver, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GENERAL OPERATIONS
Christopher W. Cox, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR LEGISLATIVE ACTION