Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Assault Rifles, Killings, and National Security

I think we can all agree that selling assault weapons to criminal cartels is bad. Organized criminals tend to be violent, and when a violent person purchases a gun capable of firing an extended magazine or being easily modified into an automatic weapon, violence can ensue on a much larger scale. So of course Republicans are upset that the ATF let assault weapons be sold to people probably buying them for Mexican cartels.

The problem is that we Republicasn fundamentally disagree that selling assault weapons to criminal cartels is bad. They just think it's bad when they might be able to make political points with an investigation. When a store owner knowingly sells assault weapons to an obvious straw purchaser (in arms trafficking terms, a buyer who is not an End User), the GOP has protected them. The FBI has sought authorization to sift through gun sale records for patterns indicating frequent and flagrant straw purchases, but the GOP has opposed that step. When the government has a specific law enforcement strategy in mind (gobsmackingly prone to catastrophe though it was), Republicans suddenly are against straw purchases- but only if the President is a Democrat.

If Republicans wanted to do a better job at preventing criminal syndicates from purchasing assault weapons from the United States to use against its law enforcement groups, communities, and citizens, they would reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban. It's not like the ATF provided the guns to cartels through abnormal channels. They simply allowed for a higher success rate for straw purchasers than normal (or maybe the success rate of straw purchases was unchanged and the ATF was just paying attention at this handful of stores). It's kind of unclear.

The administration got something in return for opening up ATF files and releasing the ATF head for testimony, two steps that they had been stonewalling. In exchange for cooperating with Congress's 'investigation' into the matter (which is actually interrupting an actual investigation by the FBI into the same operation), the Administration is getting a green light for three nominations: assistant attorney general, deputy attorney general, and a new head of the Office of Legal Counsel. The "compromise" worked out by Patrick Leahy is that Republicans could get angry and do some grandstanding about a law enforcement snafu, but only if they actually provide a vote on law enforcement nominees. If those positions had been filled promptly (i.e. if Congress hadn't stonewalled), Operation Fast and Furious might have hit some friendly fire on the way out the door. Republican Congressclown Darrell Issa wants to find out "who knew what when." I think the better question is "Why were top Justice Department positions that could have provided oversight and put the brakes on this idea left vacantobstructed for two years awaiting Senate approval?

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