As your member of Congress, I’m proud to serve on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Under the leadership of Chairman Darrell Issa (CA-49), we serve as watchdogs to the federal government, ensuring the executive branch is executing the laws properly and serving the American people as the Founders intended. This summer, the committee has been engaged in exposing grossly irresponsible actions on the part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) right here in Arizona, through Operation Fast and Furious. As the only Arizonan on the committee, I have had a front row seat to the ATF mismanagement and incompetence that is putting the lives of Arizonans at risk.
Our Southwest border with Mexico is becoming more dangerous by the day. Federal officials have long advocated for a strategy to nail the drug cartels directly responsible for the violence, rather than devoting precious personnel and resources toward prosecuting the misdemeanor crimes that support the cartels’ crime sprees. However, under the direction of ATF officials in Phoenix, this sound strategy took a murderously wrong turn.
Operation Fast and Furious permitted the exchange and transportation of firearms into
Mexico from 2009-2010. Instead of arresting “straw purchasers” who are clearly purchasing guns for a third party for criminal activity, the ATF allowed the straw purchasers to transfer their illegal contraband to the intended recipients — the drug cartels causing violence and havoc. Although the operation was terminated in January 2011, congressional investigation has found that thousands of guns ushered into the hands of these criminals are still out there.
Unfortunately we have seen first-hand the deadly consequences of this misguided policy. A gun allowed to “walk” under this operation was responsible for the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, as well as the murder of the brother of a Mexican attorney general. The Justice Department recently revealed that it knows of at least 11 more crime scenes throughout the Southwest where “Fast and Furious guns” were recovered; over 200 Fast and Furious guns have been recovered in Mexico. On the other hand, the cartel leaders who were the alleged targets of this shift in strategy are all still on the loose.
Some of my colleagues on the committee have suggested that more stringent gun control measures are the solution here, and will ensure that a Fast and Furious-style tragedy like the murder of Agent Terry does not occur again. I must respectfully disagree.
The committee has found multiple instances throughout the life of “Fast and Furious” where gun dealers came to the ATF to report suspicious gun purchases. Instead of encouraging the dealers to heed their correct instincts, ATF allowed gun dealers to go ahead with selling the guns to these straw purchasers, knowing all the while that the weapons were going straight into the hands of drug dealers and murderers. Here again, ATF showed malfeasance by falsely assuring these dealers that the process — surveillance, questioning, and subsequent arrests — was being followed.
The evidence shows that in some cases, ATF would follow the purchased weapons for a short time, but then end surveillance well before the weapons reached the border, which left thousands of unaccounted weapons in the hands of criminals and drug cartels in both Mexico and Arizona.
The bad actor in this scandal is undoubtedly a branch of the federal government, not the law abiding business owners being given bad advice by the regulatory agency that oversees their industry. The net result was an exceptionally careless operation that will continue to pose a threat to American and Mexican citizens. Arizonans deserve better from their government.
For my part, as your member of Congress, I will continue to engage in the oversight committee’s investigation of this grossly mismanaged and dangerous operation. ATF Acting Director Kenneth E. Melson, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, and United States Attorney General Eric Holder all must be held accountable and explain to the American people their involvement in this operation. Two years later, with needless death and violence in its wake with no major cartel arrests to show for it, there is serious explaining to do. Please be assured that I will do everything in my power to find desperately needed answers to these questions.
Congressman Paul A. Gosar, represents Arizona’s First Congressional District.