Since the very first days of this president's administration, the drug-fueled cartel violence in Mexico has provided a stalking horse for the gun control agenda. Early on, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder cited Mexican violence as a reason to renew the Bill Clinton gun ban of 1994. After those trial balloons were shot down, the ball was passed to Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who repeatedly has blamed American gun rights for Mexican violence. And more recently, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives cited cartel mayhem as justification for an attempt to mandate the reporting of all multiple long gun sales in border states. This regulation would force dealers to report all purchases of more than one long gun if the guns are magazine-fed and larger than .22 caliber -- effectively creating a registry.
But now, shocking revelations that grow bigger every day completely undercut the argument for additional restrictions. In fact, they illuminate bureaucratic arrogance, recklessness and hypocrisy of the highest order in the hallways of the Obama administration -- including the spreading stench of a massive cover-up.
As it turns out, the ATF was already aware of efforts by shady characters to undertake mass gun purchases in border states, because law-abiding gun dealers reported the attempted purchases voluntarily. But ATF agents acting on "orders from Washington" encouraged gun dealers to complete these transactions against the dealers' better judgment. Worse yet, the guns -- thousands of them -- then were allowed to be smuggled, or "walked," into Mexico and into the hands of drug cartels. And worst of all, these guns now are turning up at crime scenes -- including where a U.S. federal agent was murdered.
The operation is called "Fast and Furious," and it's absolutely appalling -- but it's all true, and there is still much more to come. Attorney General Holder has attempted to deflect the call for an investigation by asking the inspector general of the Justice Department to look into the matter. Sounds good on paper, but this is the same IG whose office ignored the first expressions of concern from rank-and-file agents who now have turned into whistle-blowers.
The ATF has been stonewalling inquiries from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and now Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has joined the fray -- and he has subpoena power as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson is on the story like a bloodhound, in a performance decidedly atypical of the mainstream media. You can catch up on the major developments on her page at http://bit.ly/dNDBJP.
I'm not a law enforcement officer; I just played one on TV. But you don't have to be Walker, Texas Ranger, to understand that there are very good reasons that law enforcement agents, as a rule, do not allow guns to "walk" into the hands of criminals. And to their credit, numerous rank-and-file ATF agents understood this truism, as well, objecting to the "Fast and Furious" operation from the get-go. Their superiors told them they "have to break some eggs to make an omelet" and then apparently threatened the agents with career discipline if they continued their objections.
The agents also were warned that the operation had been approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department -- levels that are populated by presidential appointees, not career law enforcement officials. And now the Mexican government has elevated the scandal into an international incident, launching its own investigation and warning that "sanctions will have to be carried out with the full force of law to (whoever) could have been responsible."
Barack Obama himself was questioned about the scandal by a reporter from Spanish-language station Univision. He quickly passed the buck, claiming ignorance of the operation and saying, "There may be a situation here (in) which a serious mistake was made, and if that's the case, then we'll find out and we'll hold somebody accountable." But a presidential effort to pin the tail on the donkey ignores the tremendous scope of "Fast and Furious," which apparently involved personnel from not only the ATF and Justice but also the Homeland Security and State departments. Any attempt to lay this massive botch at the feet of an individual ignores systemic problems that "Fast and Furious" illustrates in the federal bureaucracy. (See my remarks above about arrogance, recklessness and hypocrisy.)
At least one federal bureaucrat was better-prepared than Obama to launch the tactics of diversion. When this explosive story first began to unfold, the ATF's chief spokesman, Scot Thomasson, issued a memorandum to ATF field offices nationwide. The memo said, "ATF needs to proactively push positive stories this week, in an effort to preempt some negative reporting, or at minimum, lessen the coverage of ('Fast and Furious') in the news cycle by replacing them with good stories about ATF."
It's going to take a lot more than that to cleanse this stain. In the meantime, proponents of gun control -- including the White House -- should focus on bringing U.S. government agencies into compliance with our existing laws before pushing new restrictions on the rest of us.