Feature

‘Fast and Furious’: A sting gone wrong

In 2009, agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives sold 2,000 heavy-duty firearms to buyers for Mexican drug cartels.

As government fiascoes go, the gunrunning sting called “Operation Fast and Furious” is hard to beat, said The Economist in an editorial. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives permitted 2,000 heavy-duty firearms to be sold to buyers for Mexican drug cartels back in 2009. The plan was to trace the weapons to high-ranking gang lieutenants, and “catch the big fish of the arms trade.” That did not happen. Instead, the ATF lost track of at least 1,600 of the weapons. Many have since been recovered at crime scenes in the U.S. and Mexico, including one at which a U.S. Border Patrol agent was murdered in December 2010. Now, Republicans in Congress have released a report on the “botched” operation, excoriating the ATF for its lapses of judgment and accusing Justice Department officials of covering up the affair. But no one in the Obama administration seems prepared to take the report—or this issue—seriously.

That’s because anti-gun liberals are likely to blame for this mess, said Michael A. Walsh in the New York Post. The real objective of Fast and Furious wasn’t to catch Mexican drug cartels, but to inflate the number of American guns recovered in Mexico—and give the Obama administration a fresh excuse to crack down on U.S. gun dealers. That fits perfectly with the government’s “guns-are-evil, America-is-always-to-blame worldview.” What Fast and Furious has proved, said Robert Farago in The Washington Times, is that the ATF’s real mission is to take away Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Everything else it does, other law-enforcement agencies do better. “In the interests of justice and accountability, the ATF must be disbanded.”

Shutting down the ATF is the last thing we should do, said The Washington Post. One of the reasons Fast and Furious failed is because years of budget caps by NRA-backed Republicans have left the agency with few resources. Rather than strip it of funding, Congress ought to “strengthen its ranks and reinforce its mission to get illegal guns off the streets.” Start by confirming a permanent director, said Bob Barr in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The ATF has been without one since 2006, as Congress refuses to confirm a nominee. A rudderless agency is one in which bad decisions are waiting to happen. But the government should also conduct a thorough investigation into how this operation went wrong. Then perhaps “some good can come out of this tragic blunder.”

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