The “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal has blown up in Republicans’ collective faces just one day before a major House vote on holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over related documents.
Despite the insistence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s largest gun lobbying group, it was not an Obama administration conspiracy to create gun violence in Mexico as a pretext for banning guns in the U.S. Quite the opposite, actually.
In a devastating investigation published Wednesday by Fortune reporter Katherine Eban, the “Fast and Furious” scandal is revealed to have actually been the product of one guy who screwed up and let several guns vanish over the border.
That guy, former Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) agent John Dodson, told reporters last March that video of gun sales in Arizona was part of a program in which the government was allowing guns to be sold to Mexican drug cartels.
Turns out, not so much.
In the state of Arizona, where the ATF’s investigation took place, there is no legal requirement to obtain a license before purchasing a firearm. There are no bans on assault rifles. Straw purchases — I.E., gun buys carried out by someone who intends to transfer the weapons to someone else immediately thereafter — are also legal, but only on a technicality.
Appearing on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show on Wednesday, Eban explained that the ATF was filming straw purchases of weapons with the intent to stop them from going over the border, but they were stymied at every point by prosecutors who, citing state law, said they could do nothing to stop it because transferring ownership immediately after purchasing a weapon is, in fact, legal in Arizona.
“In the ‘Fast and Furious’ case, which was one investigation into a group of straw purchasers, there was no operational tactic to walk guns,” Eban told Maddow. “What there was, was a protracted struggle to arrest kids not even old enough to buy beer, who were obviously straw purchasers, and there was a continual struggle with prosecutors. As they interpreted the laws, the sales were legal, the transfers were legal, and as prosecutors interpreted the laws, they did not have grounds to make seizures or arrests.”
In other words, the thing that the NRA and their Republican allies in Congress have been hyping for months — the thing that could see Attorney General Eric Holder held in contempt of Congress for — is actually and entirely a creation of those same Republican lawmakers and that same gun lobby, and virtually everyone in the media had the story wrong thanks to a phony whistleblower.
“ATF agents demanded, ‘we want to seize these guns, we want to make arrests,’ but prosecutors blocked them,” Eban explained. “Now, we are a nation of laws. ATF agents cannot decide that they’re going to make arrests or seize guns without prosecutors’ okay. So if they’ve asked, and prosecutors have answered, and the answer is no, that’s it.”
This video was broadcast by MSNBC on Wednesday, June 27, 2012.