By Denise Tessier
As happens sometimes, Arthur Alpert and I were inspired by the same topic this week – in this case, the botched gun-trafficking operation known as “Operation Fast and Furious.” While Alpert’s column is quite different from what I had in mind, I considered moving on to something else until a bit of additional intelligence crossed my desk.
Until this morning, I was going to posit that it would have been helpful if the Journal had written an editorial outlining the history of Operation Fast and Furious, as it had done June 19 with the history of the DREAM Act. A history would have given some perspective to the stories coming out of Washington, and could have pointed out that Fast and Furious started with George W. Bush, that it was an unauthorized operation out of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, that holding U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt was drastic in that it was the first of its kind against an attorney general (and, of course, there was no mention of Nancy Pelosi’s comment that she declined to do the same to Karl Rove).
The Journal finally did weigh in with an editorial July 9, in order to chastise Holder for holding out on providing the documents Congress requested. The editorial had the chance to introduce some history about the previous administration’s role in the operation but sidestepped it, saying:
. . .a bureaucrat/politician did not pull the literal trigger that killed (U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian) Terry. But a bureaucrat/politician did push a dangerous operation on the American taxpayers that ultimately ended in the death of an American citizen who was sworn to uphold the laws of the land.
Who pushed this operation on the taxpayers? The Bush administration’s role remains unmentioned, despite the fact that is not in dispute.
And as Alpert pointed out, Michael Coleman’s Journal column on July 1 offered a bit of history with “It’s Never Easy Being the AG,” although he left the actual history lesson to quotes from House Democrats Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich.
But what has been lost in all of what Heinrich aptly described as this “political theater” are the actual consequences of Operation Fast and Furious, the intelligence that crossed my desk this morning, some of which could be considered “good.”
According to Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor (the global intelligence service that was hacked by Anonymous in December, which, thankfully, is up and running again), criticism of Fast and Furious has led to a strengthening of gun law enforcement.
In a piece entitled “The Other Consequences of Fast and Furious”, Stratfor reports that more inspections are being done to audit the sales records of licensed gun dealers, adding:
. . .The increase in ATF inspection staff and activity has sparked an outcry from gun show dealers who claim they are being unfairly harassed by inspectors. ATF sources have told Stratfor that they do not harass dealers, but that the staff increase has allowed the bureau to catch up on inspections it was not able to conduct in the past.
The sources also said they believe that their increased presence at gun shows is scaring away cartel buyers, although, obviously, some gun show firearms are still finding their way into cartel hands.
The report continues:
Another procedural change occurred in August 2011, when the ATF began a new program in which licensed gun dealers in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California are required to report to the ATF bulk sales of certain types of rifles, namely semi-automatic rifles larger than .22 caliber with detachable magazines such as the semi-automatic AR-15 and AK-47 variants favored by the cartels.
The new rule requires gun dealers to report people without federal firearms licenses who buy two or more of such rifles to the ATF within five working days. The rule has raised the ire of some Second Amendment activists, but the ATF notes that it has had a similar reporting regimen for multiple sales of handguns in place since 1975.
In addition, prosecution of weapons cases has been given increased priority – and U.S. Attorneys are less likely to decline prosecution of a gun case, the article says, adding:
This has led to increased pressure on lower-level violators such as straw purchasers — people paid by arms traffickers to buy guns from dealers. Greed will ensure that people continue to work as straw purchasers, but considering the increased risk of prosecution and the new reporting requirements, straw purchasers and the traffickers who employ them will be more exposed.
In May 2012, the ATF claimed that the reporting requirements have led to a decrease in large-volume sales of semi-automatic rifles (10 or more in a single purchase).
Of course, traffickers are adapting to the new regulations in creative ways, which is explained well in the article.
Significantly, all of this affects New Mexico, a border state with its own alleged instances of citizenry supplying Mexican drug cartels with guns.
And cartel activity is no longer happening just south of New Mexico’s border, but is bleeding into the state, with Journal-carried reports that members of a major drug trafficking and money laundering Albuquerque organization had connections to the deadly Sinaloa drug cartel, and allegedly bought race horses and real estate to hide their dealings.
As Heinrich told Coleman, Agent Terry’s death deserves “serious inquiry,” but instead of conducting a bipartisan investigation, Congress has chosen to make the case election year political fodder.
Meanwhile, as the Journal reports, yet another Mexican newspaper has stopped covering the drug cartels as a result of being bombed by hand-grenade twice in as many months.
And the Mexican drug cartels are figuring out other ways – far beyond Fast and Furious – to obtain military-grade assault rifles and ordnance.