Operation Fast and Furious
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Operation Fast and Furious was a program under 'Project Gunrunner' led by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) which is overseen by the Department of Justice (DoJ). The operation's main goal was to arrest straw gun purchasers and their contacts. The ATF handled this operation poorly with limited authority and it blew up spectacularly into a scandal with lots of misinformation peddled by right-wing sources.
Definition of Terms
First, a glossary as it relates to this article.
- "Gunwalking": Letting a gun buyer and the gun "get away" with intent to follow both.
- "Straw purchaser": Person who can pass a background check who buys guns in bulk with the intention of reselling them to the black market.
Started as a pilot in 2005 by the ATF in Laredo, Texas, the goal was to stop the massive flow of guns from the US to Mexico in an effort to choke the drug cartels. After about four years, 1,400 were prosecuted as a result of this sting involving some 12,000 firearms.
Operation Fast and Furious was specific to the bureau in Phoenix, Arizona. Its method of doing so was to allow guns to be purchased by known straw purchasers then "follow" them to arrest both the purchaser and the contact. However, this was marred heavily by weak laws and a non-compliant U.S. Attorney's Office. 39 indictments were requested by the ATF of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the arrest of straw purchasers, but without that authority the transactions were allowed to complete. Good one, guys!
So what happened?
A border patrol officer was killed on the US-Mexico border by Mexican bandits. Left behind by the bandits were two guns whose serial numbers traced back to a straw purchaser the ATF was monitoring. As the question "How did this happen?" was just begging to be asked, the scandal exploded.
Republicans and other conservatives, eager to stroke the gun nuts, launched a kabuki investigation that, according to who you ask, is still ongoing. Hearings, meetings, and so forth tried to pin the blame on the Obama administration and specifically US attorney general Eric Holder, the latter of which knew about the program, but probably had no real involvement in it as he entered office in 2009, years after it had started. A popular conspiracy theory claimed that the ATF had "lost" the guns deliberately, so as to provide a rationale for new gun control laws with the stated intent of defusing the violence in the Mexican drug war.
Eventually, the Obama administration asserted executive privilege on documents related to the operation (stated in order to protect ongoing investigations), which essentially caused the controversy to die horribly. Eric Holder was voted to be in contempt of Congress, but no charges were actually filed. On January 19th, 2016, a federal judge ruled against Obama's use of executive privilege since the administration had disclosed the details of the case on a DOJ report. The Obama administration complied in April of that year. Nothing has since come from this disclosure.
Who is to blame
The Attorney's Office and the ATF Phoenix Team VII both share the blame on this one. Unless more evidence is found proving Holder had a more intrusive involvement, he'll continue to stay and be yelled at in fringe circles like Janet Reno. The fact that the GOP brass is already reduced to conspiratorial rantings about the Second Amendment is quite telling.