Sunday, October 16, 2011

The NRA, Fast and Furious, and Wide Receiver: What a difference a few years makes

By now, most people have heard of the "Fast and Furious" scandal, stemming from an operation conducted out of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE).  During that sting, a number of guns were allowed to "walk" across the border to Mexico in order to allow BATFE to track an organization of "straw" gun buyers.

The operation became a scandal when some of the guns started turning up at Mexican crime scenes, and even were involved in the killing of a Border Patrol agent in southern Arizona.

The operation has come in for criticisms from many quarters and is the subject of Congressional investigations.

While some of the criticisms are certainly justified, the loudest critics seem to have selective memories.

Just a few years ago, during the previous presidential administration, another very similar BATFE effort called Operation Wide Receiver did much the same thing - allowed weapons to cross the border with Mexico, ostensibly to use the weapons to track criminal organizations there.

It failed, not as spectacularly as Fast and Furious, but it still failed miserably.

At the time in 2006, it pretty much escaped notice.  Certainly, many of the critics of Fast and Furious now ignored Wide Receiver then.

The NRA is a good example of this. 

They started criticizing BATFE and the Department of Justice over this in February, following up in February again, February (yet again!), March, March (again), April, May, JuneJune (again), June (yet again!), JulyJuly (again), July (yet again!), July (one more time for good measure), August, and September.

That list is just the NRA's press releases that directly reference the operation.  It doesn't include the anti-Mexico/Central America propaganda spouted by the NRA's communications shop.  They spent the spring trying to deflect attention from the inconvenient fact that most of the crime guns in Mexico come from the United States.

In addition to the press releases, Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president and the primary voice and face of the NRA has been ranting into any microphone that somebody puts in front of him ("Biggest cover up since Watergate" is my personal favorite).

By comparison, the NRA's press releases on Operation Wide Receiver -

[crickets chirping]

Now, I'm not accusing the NRA of engaging in anything illegal here.  However, if they ever want to regain some credibility in civil society, they need to become more than a partisan press release generator/marketing agency for gun manufacturers and retailers.

Jay Bookman of the Atlanta Journal Constitution has a more in-depth column on Fast and Furious here.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.


TL671 said...

A few rather important differences between the two operations, first the Mexican government was informed about Operation Wide Receiver, and many of the firearms were interdicted. While everybody not directly involved in trafficking firearms in Operation Fast and Furious were kept completely in the dark, and ZERO firearms were interdicted. In fact agents were directly, and in no uncertain terms told to look the other way while weapons were bought, sold, and smuggled. In Operation Wide Receiver we are talking about maybe two hundred guns, not exactly nothing but pales in comparison to the two thousand+ that we know about in Operation Fast and Furious. Operation Fast and Furious was just what one office in Arizona was up to, we have yet to get any real details on what was going on in other border states, not to mention Florida. If and when the truth gets out, I'm sure we will see this was hardly an isolated example of one office violating the laws of not just The United States of America, but international law as well.

rexxhead said...

' order to allow BATFE to track an organization of "straw" gun buyers.'

Not even approximately true. ATF has no police powers in Mexico, and they didn't tell the Mexican authorities about F&F. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that there was never any intention to track anything.

The only explanation that makes any sense is that F&F was an effort to "get the numbers up". The claim that 90% of Mexican crime guns originate from U.S. gun store sales has been disproven time and time again. F&F was designed to make that claim true.

It's a half-step from treason.

Thane Eichenauer said...

This is some sad sack reasoning. The NRA didn't complain about Wide Receiver therefore when government engages in shameful and illegal behavior now it should be overlooked?

I am glad that there are plenty of people who find this reasoning to be as pitiful as I find it.

cpmaz said...

Thane -

Did I say Fast and Furious should be overlooked? Hardly.

In fact, I think that everyone involved should be fired (at the very least), if only because the scheme was a failure during the Bush Administration and the people who came up with it this time around are obviously incapable of learning the lesson from the prior operation.

All -

I was pointing out the NRA's blatant hypocrisy on this - they gave a free pass to an operation conducted during the Bush Administration while loudly and frequently criticizing a similar operation conducted during the Obama Administration.

Engage in all of the logic leaps you desire, but by criticizing one and not the other, the NRA (and certain members of Congress) only reinforces the perception that those folks are more interested in partisan gamesmanship than in truth.

Thane Eichenauer said...

Thank you for the clarification.