December 4, 2023
The lesson the government learned from Operation Fast and Furious is that violent Mexican crime helps it sell U.S. gun bans. (Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Operations Division

“Since Operation Fast and Furious, I’ve conducted broad oversight with respect to gunrunning operations and the ATF’s role with respect to them,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, in his position as Ranking Member of the Committee on the Budget, wrote Tuesday in a letter to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Director Steve Dettelbach. “Accordingly, I write today regarding concerning reports that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) defunded and shut down an interagency effort, Project Thor, to combat weapons trafficking networks that are used by Mexican cartels within the U.S. to smuggle weapons to Mexico.

Citing CBS News reports that “Mexican drug cartels have been smuggling a vast arsenal of even military-grade weapons out of the U.S. with the help of American citizens,” Grassley questioned why “ATF denied Project Thor funding for fiscal year 2022, and law enforcement, intelligence, and diplomatic officials told the news outlet that the current approach to combat and dismantle cartel gunrunning networks across the U.S. was ‘ineffective.’”

He further questioned why, with the reported scope of the trafficking and the threat it represents, the ATF was instead focused on “targeting law-abiding gun owners and sellers,” requiring “any law-abiding citizen who sells a single firearm online to register for a Federal Firearms License” which “could subject them to warrantless inspections of their homes, an exercise that will undoubtedly consume limited ATF resources. In addition, the ATF has revoked a record number of FFLs under its “zero tolerance” policy which has been criticized for punishing small business gun shop owners for innocent or mere administrative errors.”

Citizen journalist John Richardson posted an insightful analysis of the CBS report, noting, “US government officials estimate that the cartels are smuggling 2,000 firearms a day across the Mexican border. The way it works is that the cartels alert buyers in the US who are not prohibited persons of their needs, they transfer the guns to brokers, and then the guns go to smugglers who take the firearms across the border to the cartels. Buyers are reported to be spread across all 50 states.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s the premise on which Operation Fast and Furious, which Grassley opened his letter to Dettelbach with, was founded. While the conventional media narrative is that it was designed to track the guns to cartel buyers but became a “botched gun,” ATF could not have botched it because they never tried to track them to the buyers. Once guns were crossed over the border, the only way to find out what happened to them would be to find them at crime scenes, where they could then be used, along with the predictable dead bodies, to “pad statistics.”

This, in turn, was used by gun prohibitionists to demand more “gun control,” including an attempt to renew an “assault weapon ban.” Meanwhile, ATF and the Department of Justice waged a campaign of stonewalling investigations and retaliating against whistleblowers while bodies continued (and continue) to pile up.

Unfortunately (outrageously), most of the original reporting has disappeared from the internet and is now only available via the Internet Archive (so expect the links in this paragraph to load slowly). Eight volumes tell the story of how citizen journalist Mike Vanderboegh and this correspondent followed up on leads to contact and verify whistleblowers and attempted to pressure the “mainstream” media to notice and report on the story, and the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate it and provide whistleblower protection.

A repeat of the same government/media narratives that were pushed in Fast and Furious may explain why ATF is not interested in programs like Thor but in going after FFLs instead: the Biden Administration’s goals are for more gun bans and citizen disarmament. He’s told the country what he wants. Concentrating on tackling the real problems, pervasive U.S. authoritarianism, and top-down Mexican corruption instead of U.S. guns does not advance those goals.

Grassley’s latest efforts are laudable, but don’t expect them to be productive without a House and Senate majority and a Republican in the White House. And even with that, too often, the GOP has enjoyed such advantages but then failed to do anything substantive to rein in abuses and hold abusers accountable.

How many deaths resulted from what I termed “Project Gunwalker”? How many responsible officials are behind bars? And why is the border still porous?

Grassley’s letter to Dettelbach follows:

Grassley Letter to ATF Director by AmmoLand Shooting Sports News on Scribd

About David Codrea:

David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating/defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. He blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” is a regularly featured contributor to Firearms News, and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.

David Codrea

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