Editorial: End of Project Gunrunner leaves inadequate end to investigation

Editorial Board

Between 2006 and 2011, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, commonly called the ATF, conducted an operation called “Project Gunrunner,” the original purpose of which was allegedly eliminating the illegal purchase of firearms intended for shipment to Mexico, where they’d eventually end up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. Project Gunrunner was comprised of several operations, the largest and final being Operation Fast and Furious, started in 2009.

The process was relatively simple, at least in theory: The ATF compelled legal firearms dealers, no different than our local Jax or Scheels in Des Moines, to sell so-called “assault weapons” and handguns to Mexican gun traffickers the government had secretly identified and presumed they could track. As history shows us though, hubris is a dangerous thing.

In reality, the ATF could not track the people, and therefore not the guns either, resulting in hundreds if not thousands of guns lost to Mexican cartels. In Fast and Furious alone, of the more than 2,000 guns sold under this scam, only 700 were actually recovered.

The ATF has a long history of egregious incompetence, but credit must be given where it is due, insofar as the many ATF agents themselves who objected to these types of operations are concerned. The owners of the gun shops the ATF was forcing to participate in this nonsense objected too, eliminating blame from the much maligned-from-the-left gun industry.

It was all for naught, the complaints falling upon deaf ears: Dec. 14, 2010, saw the killing of border patrol agent Brian Terry by a rifle lost by the ATF during Fast and Furious. Then, on Feb. 15, 2011 Immigration and customs agent Jaime Zapata was killed with a gun linked to Operation Gunrunner.  The Mexican government also strenuously complained that Mexican citizens and police officers were being killed by guns traced back to our Operation Gunrunner, too.

The irony, if there is any, is that in the weeks leading up to the exposure of this scandal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pursuing her tired anti-gun agenda and calling for more gun control to help stop American guns flowing to Mexico. Apparently nobody let her in on the secret: The American government was the ones sending them there.

Yet despite knowing what was happening, top-level authorities in the Justice Department and ATF let the failing programs continue. Iowa’s very own Sen. Charles Grassley initiated an investigation, and the Justice Department followed the golden rule of government when somebody screws up: Deny, deny, deny. That is, until they couldn’t deny anymore, and the story of their complete ineptitude was uncovered in both Congress and the media.

Cries for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation came from all angles —and many even spoke of impeaching President Barack Obama.

The ultimate insult to injury after injury came just the other day: Two men were recently sentenced for gun smuggling related charges in connection to Fast and Furious. The charges? Not murder, or even smuggling itself, but rather mere conspiracy and lying to the cops. The sentences? Three and a half years for one guy, and nine years for the other. Not even a decade in trade for the lives of two public servants and untold other civilians and Mexican officials.

A few other people have been arrested in the aftermath of this fiasco, too, but not nearly enough to justify the Fast and Furious debacle. The government ought to be ashamed. It’s one thing to do something stupid, another to try covering it up, and yet another to abjectly fail to achieve any redeeming result.