PD Editorial: A partisan shootout over 'gun walking'
Published: Friday, June 22, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 22, 2012 at 3:42 p.m.
Let's start with the obvious:
First, “Fast and Furious,” a federal law enforcement operation targeting the flow of firearms from gun shops along the U.S. border to Mexican drug gangs, was a terrible idea with deadly consequences, perhaps including the slaying of an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent.
It's a failure worthy of congressional scrutiny.
Second, this week's vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress was a partisan stunt.
Here's something that's less obvious:
Whether House Republicans are interested in settling the dispute over access to Justice Department documents and addressing the larger issue of drug-fueled gun violence, or whether they just want to use Operation Fast and Furious to score some election-year points.
President Barack Obama's assertion of executive privilege, the first by his administration, was accompanied by an offer to negotiate the release of some of the documents in question.
Instead of trying to work out their differences, the committee rushed ahead with a party-line vote. House Speaker John Boehner followed up with a statement insinuating that the White House had a direct role in the botched sting operation.
A phony constitutional crisis makes for great theater, and it feeds conspiracy theories spread by, among others, radio talker Rush Limbaugh, who told his listeners that Fast and Furious was designed to fail “to gin up anti-Amendment 2 sentiment among the people of this country.” Oh, please.
The dispute isn't over the genesis of Fast and Furious. The committee wants internal Justice Department communications after Holder told Congress that ATF always tries to stop guns from crossing the border. That wasn't true, but if there was a cover-up, it was botched, too, because Holder retracted his statement and apologized.
George W. Bush was in the White House when ATF started “gun walking.” The idea was to identify drug cartel leaders by tracing weapons across the border. The practice continued under Obama. However, ATF lost track of at least 2,000 weapons. Two of them turned up at a shootout in 2010 in which ATF Agent Brian Terry was killed.
Mexican authorities have long blamed U.S. gun dealers and U.S. drug users for criminal violence south of the border — and there's evidence supporting both claims.
There are 8,000 gun dealers along the U.S.-Mexican border, and nearly 70 percent of the guns recovered from Mexican criminal activity during the past five years and traced by the U.S. government originated from sales in the United States, according to an ATF report released in April.
When the Obama administration issued rules requiring border-area dealers to report sales of multiple semiautomatic weapons, gun rights groups sued. When a court upheld the regulation in January, House Republicans cut off enforcement funds.
Congress and the administration ought to be focused on the 2,000 missing firearms and figuring out how to stop the flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico (and the flow of drugs the other way). Instead, there's yet another partisan shootout on Capitol Hill.
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