Government's Fast and Furious operation sparks gun control discussion

Published: Thursday, Nov. 10 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in the arms trafficking investigation called Operation Fast and Furious.

Associated Press

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The Obama administrations Fast and Furious operation was fundamentally different than the Bush-era Operation Wide Receiver, but it should be an impetus for increased gun control, administration officials said in recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division, and Attorney General Eric Holder testified at Congressional hearings on Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 respectively. During each of their testimonies, Holder and Breuer discussed Fast and Furious, a government operation that purposely put as many as 1,800 weapons in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Fast and Furious became public earlier this year when ATF agent John Dodson came forward following the death of Brian Terry, a member of a special tactical border squad. Terry was killed while on patrol, and the guns used in his murder were later traced back to Fast and Furious.

Although the government was responsible for the guns allowed into Mexico, both Breuer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., discussed the need for increased gun control during the Nov. 1 hearing.

I know others disagree, but we have very lax laws when it comes to guns, and I think this to some extent influences BATF and how they approach the problem as to whether they have political support or not, Feinstein said. The question comes, what can we do? Id really rather concentrate on the constructive rather than other things.

From my understanding, 94,000 weapons have been recovered in the last 5 years in Mexico, Breuer said. And of the 94,000 weapons that have been recovered in Mexico, 64,000 of those are traced to the United States. We have to do something to prevent criminals from getting those guns.

According to the U.S. government and Wikileaks cables, the most fearsome weapons used in Mexico did not, in fact, come from the United States. Instead, the State Department cables say that military type equipment, including grenades and light anti-tank weapons, along with guns such as the Barrett .50 caliber AK-47 assault rifles, .62 and its variants, and the "cop killer" FN 5.57, are from the arsenals of the armies of Central America.

Although opponents of stricter gun control regulations say the figures cited by Breuer are inaccurate, both Breuer and Feinstein maintained that tightening current gun regulations is necessary.

There has been a lot said about Fast and Furious, and perhaps mistakes were made, but I think this hunt for blame doesnt really speak about the problem, Feinstein said at the hearing. We have more guns in this country than we have people, and somebodys got to come to the realization that when these guns go to the wrong places, scores of deaths result, and thats exactly the case with the cartels.

It is clear that we need more tools to get those people who are buying the guns and illegally transporting them to Mexico, Breuer said. We cannot permit the guns to go knowingly and we cannot permit the guns to go unknowingly. We need to stop the flow.

Breuer suggested that ATF needs the ability to know when guns were purchased, along with the ability to forfeit the weapons and inventories of gun dealers who knowingly sell their guns to criminals.

Attorney General Holder also said during the Nov. 8 hearing that federal authorities suffer from a lack of effective enforcement tools, including tougher legislation to prosecute gun traffickers and funding for agents to combat weapons smuggling.

Beyond identifying where errors occurred and ensuring that they never occur again, we must be careful not to lose sight of the critical problem that this flawed investigation has highlighted: we are losing the battle to stop the flow of illegal guns to Mexico, Holder said.

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