January 28, 2023

President Joe Biden hugs Sandy Hook survivor Jackie Hegarty before he speaks during an event in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, with survivors and families impacted by gun violence for the 10th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

It is time for President Joe Biden to drop the gun control charade. He – along with his Capitol Hill gun control supporters – were never interested in curbing criminal misuse of guns. They are only interested in controlling you.

President Biden’s prisoner swap with Russia of a convicted international arms trafficker for a WNBA star proved that his administration doesn’t care about keeping guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. His only interest when it comes to guns is keeping them out of the hands of those who obey the law. His earnest podium admonitions are betrayed by his actions.

‘Merchant of Death’

President Biden announced last week the trade with Russia of Viktor Bout for Brittney Griner. Bout is a notorious international arms smuggler who earned the moniker “Merchant of Death.” He’s a former Soviet-era military officer who was arrested in 2008 in Thailand by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents in a sting for proposing a sale of tens of millions of dollars to the Colombian narco-terrorist group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The illicit sale was for $20 million worth of “a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds of ammunition and five tons of plastic explosives.”

Bout’s history runs much deeper. He was identified as an illicit arms dealer by the United Nations in 2000. He was moving arms to African warlords, Middle East dictators and Central American narco-terrorist groups. His attempt to arm the FARC was what ultimately put him in prison for charges of conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals, U.S. officers and employees, conspiracy to acquire missiles to destroy aircraft and conspiracy to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.

Brittney Griner (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

Bout was swapped for Griner, a basketball player arrested by Russia in February on drug possession charges.

Security Threat

The exchange has been lampooned by critics for how embarrassingly lopsided it is. Russia continues to hold former Marine Paul Whelan, arrested on dubious espionage charges. Former National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton told CBS News, “This is not a deal. This is not a swap. This is a surrender.”

Aug. 23, 2019 photo of Paul Whelan, arrested for alleged spying (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

Fox News reported that former DEA Special Operation Director Derek Maltz, who was involved in Bout’s capture, slammed the White House for their “ironic” prisoner swap, arguing that it’s “disgusting” for the Biden administration to sell gun control while celebrating the release of an international arms trafficker.

Even the Pentagon is wary. “I think there is a concern that he would return to doing the same kind of work that he’s done in the past,” a senior defense official told reporters.

The exchange exposed how unserious this administration truly is when it comes to ending the criminal misuse of firearms. Less than one day before the swap was announced, President Biden renewed his pledge to ban modern sporting rifles (MSRs) in America.

That pronouncement came just days after he told media, “The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick. It has no socially redeeming value. Zero. None. Not a single solitary rationale for it except profit for the gun manufacturers.”

The White House is mum on Bout’s Russian return. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that within days of returning to Russia, Bout joined the pro-Kremlin Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), an ultranationalist right-wing political group. That political party supports Russia’s Ukraine invasion and demands Russia “reconquer” previously-held territories. He’s reportedly considering a run for Russia’s parliament, but is being coy with answers for now.

Viktor Bout, who was swapped for WNBA star Brittney Griner last week and who joined Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party attends the party congress in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. (Aleksandr Sivov, Press Service of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia via AP)

This has become a pattern for President Biden. The White House left $7 billion in weapons and equipment in the wake of the ill-fated Afghanistan withdrawal. That consisted of 600,000 weapons – including 350,000 M-4 and M-16 rifles, 60,000 machine guns and 25,000 grenade launchers. That’s on top of the 23,825 Humvees in Afghanistan, including armored gun truck variants, and nearly 900 combat vehicles, all of which are now in the hands of the Taliban, a terror organization that is the avowed enemy of the United States.

Move Along, Nothing to See Here

The White House ordered U.S. agencies to scrub any reference to those reports. It’s doing similar clean-up with the lopsided prisoner swap, calling in support from gun control allies on Capitol Hill.

Sheila Jackson Lee ar-15 ban
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) downplayed the significance of an international arms trafficker being released, despite the Pentagon’s concerns. Congresswoman Jackson Lee claimed Bout wasn’t directly responsible for American deaths, so the release of an arms trafficker isn’t a concern to her.

“Let me say this, no one knows the story of Paul — of the weapons dealer, if you will,” she said on MSNBC’s The ReidOut, according to Breitbart. “And — as the facts would tell them, he was sentenced to 25 years, he served 11 to 16 years, I don’t know the — I can’t remember the exact number. But in actuality, his weapons might have been used to kill Americans. He has not killed Americans.”

President Biden’s gun control agenda has never been targeted at stopping criminals. It’s always been about stopping law-abiding Americans from exercising their God-given rights.

Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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