Fast and Furious: Why Everything You Know About the Scandal is Wrong

The vote on whether or not to hold Eric Holder in contempt is likely going on as this is being published. The Fast and Furious scandal has been going on for some time now, and has gotten more attention on PolicyMic the past couple of days.

Here’s the thing: everything you have heard about it is probably wrong. 

A six-month long investigation by Fortune reveals that this is nothing more than a witch hunt fueled by bad journalism, bad politics, and the 2nd Amendment. 

Group VII was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms task force based in Arizona focusing on gun trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border. They were doing what they could to track guns, but they were severely limited from their very first step. The NRA and congressional Republicans managed to work into their appropriations bill that the ATF may not maintain an electronic database of gun purchases. This meant that Group VII needed to rely on going to every gun shop and poring over sales tickets for suspicious details, and gun shop owners voluntarily reporting suspicious activity. For thousands of purchases, it is clear why this would be a great hindrance.

More importantly, Arizona has extremely lenient gun laws, supported by Republicans. These laws allow customers to buy as many guns as they want as long as they pass a background check. There are no waiting periods, no permits, and no restrictions on reselling the guns. Unsurprisingly, this creates an easy system for gun smugglers to pay people to go buy the guns for them. For instance,

“After examining one suspect's garbage, agents learned he was on food stamps yet had plunked down more than $300,000 for 476 firearms in six months…In another instance, a young jobless suspect paid more than $10,000 for a 50-caliber tripod-mounted sniper rifle.”

Very clear suspicious activity right? Well, now hopefully you’re thinking, “At least the ATF can get those people since they are clearly performing suspicious activity.” Well you’d be wrong.

That brings us to part two of this process.

The ATF gathers evidence, but they need the Department of Justice to approve warrants, arrests, etc. Lo and behold, due to Republican efforts to expand gun rights, the Department of Justice is unable to issue necessary approvals without nearly unequivocal evidence of gun trafficking being linked to a crime (but of course that evidence can’t be found without warrants).

For those previously quoted examples, the leader of Group VII asked prosecutors if he could arrest the suspect on food stamps for fraudulently accepting public assistance. The prosecutor said no. For the second case, where a young unemployed person bought a $10,000 50-caliber sniper rifle, the prosecutor said that they lacked proof that he hadn’t bought the gun for himself.

Then a key even happened: in December 2010, a U.S. border guard was killed by guns purchased by a Fast and Furious suspect in Phoenix. Guns that Group VII was unable to stop because of Republican policies.

It was in fact the opposite of gun walking. Group VII was not giving the guns to criminals to track them, they were seeing criminals get guns, but were unable to stop them because their hands were tied.

Even better, the only case of actual gun walking was performed by John Dodson, the agent who broke the “story” to CBS. Dodson essentially set up his own little sting – entirely outside of the Fast and Furious case – and sold guns to criminals to track them. But then – and this is probably the best part in the whole thing – he went on vacation. And the guns were lost. This one agent is not the focus of Republican investigation. But the rest of the ATF and Justice Department, who were trying to do their jobs the best they can, are under investigation.

So here’s the summary:

1. Republicans and gun rights advocates such as the NRA tie the hands of the ATF and the Department of Justice.

2. The ATF struggles to gain evidence on gun trafficking due to these restrictions.

3. The ATF struggles to pursue cases against trafficking that they do manage to gain evidence on due to these restrictions. 

4. A U.S. border guard gets killed by guns that the ATF was unable to stop.

5. Congressional Republicans launch a witch hunt against Obama’s Justice Department and ATF.

6. The wrong people get crucified by Congress and the media.

Now, there are two things that this article is not trying to do. First, it is not to judge whether or not gun rights laws should be loosened. The point is that Republicans loosened them, and are using the effects of that to attack their political opposition. Second, it is not to judge whether or not Eric Holder acted in contempt of Congress. While the investigation may have begun on a completely faulty premise, Holder still may have hindered the investigation. Whether or not that is true, I do not know.

What this article did hopefully do was show that the larger Fast and Furious investigation is nothing but hypocritical politicking at its worst.