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Posts tagged "ATF"

By cutting off federal funding for research and stymieing data collection and sharing, the National Rifle Association has tried to do to the study of gun violence what climate deniers have done to the science of global warming. No wonder: When it comes to hard numbers, some of the gun lobby’s favorite arguments are full of holes.

Myth #1: They’re coming for your guns.
Fact-check: No one knows the exact number of guns in America, but it’s clear there’s no practical way to round them all up (never mind that no one in Washington is proposing this). Yet if you fantasize about rifle-toting citizens facing down the government, you’ll rest easy knowing that America’s roughly 80 million gun owners already have the feds and cops outgunned by a factor of around 79 to 1.

Myth #2: Guns don’t kill people—people kill people.
Fact-check: People with more guns tend to kill more people—with guns. The states with the highest gun ownership rates have a gun murder rate 114% higher than those with the lowest gun ownership rates. Also, gun death rates tend to be higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership.

Myth #3: An armed society is a polite society.
Fact-check: Drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures at other motorists, and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively.
• Among Texans convicted of serious crimes, those with concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more than those without.
• In states with Stand Your Ground and other laws making it easier to shoot in self-defense, those policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides.

Myth #4: More good guys with guns can stop rampaging bad guys.
Fact-check: Mass shootings stopped by armed civilians in the past 30 years: 0
• Chances that a shooting at an ER involves guns taken from guards: 1 in 5

Myth #7: Guns make women safer.
Fact-check: In 2010, nearly 6 times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than murdered by male strangers.
• A woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increase more than 7 times if he has access to a gun.
• One study found that women in states with higher gun ownership rates were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun that women in states with lower gun ownership rates.

Myth #10: We don’t need more gun laws—we just need to enforce the ones we have.
Fact-check:
 Weak laws and loopholes backed by the gun lobby make it easier to get guns illegally.
• Around 40% of all legal gun sales involve private sellers and don’t require background checks.40% of prison inmates who used guns in their crimes got them this way.
• An investigation found 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check.
• 20% of licensed California gun dealers agreed to sell handguns to researchers posing as illegal “straw” buyers.
• The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has not had a permanent director for 6 years, due to an NRA-backed requirement that the Senate approve nominees.

h/t: Mother Jones

President Obama unveiled his policy proposals for reducing gun violence on Wednesday. Here were the 10 major items he’s pushing:

1) Require criminal background checks for all gun sales.
2) Take four executive actions to ensure information on dangerous individuals is available to the background check system.
3) Reinstate and strengthen the assault weapons ban.
4) Restore the 10-round limit on ammunition magazines.
5) Protect police by finishing the job of getting rid of armor-piercing bullets.
6) Give law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crime.
7) End the freeze on gun violence research.
8) Make our schools safer with more school resource officers and school counselors, safer climates, and better emergency response plans.
9) Help ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need.
10) Ensure health insurance plans cover mental health benefits.

The White House also announced 23 executive actions on guns and gun violence that Obama pledged to take:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
4. Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
6. Publish a letter from ATF to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
10. Release a DOJ report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.
11. Nominate an ATF director.
12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.
13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.
15. Direct the Attorney General to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
17. Release a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
19. Develop model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within ACA exchanges.
22. Commit to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

H/T: Washington Post

President Obama plans to announce on Wednesday that he is nominating B. Todd Jones to the long-unfilled position of director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to a White House official. Jones is currently the ATF’s acting director.

The ATF has gone six years without a permanent director. Carl. J. Truscott was the bureau’s last permanent director.

h/t: TPM LiveWire

With days–perhaps hours–to go before President Obama announces recommendations from Vice President Biden’s gun violence task force, battles lines have already been drawn.

Most dramatically, with the heartrending burials of 20 innocent first-graders and six of their heroic educators as a backdrop, NRA top lobbyist Wayne LaPierre issued a belligerent and self-pitying demand for yet more weaponry, and the posting of armed guards at every school in America. But as the nation debates Obama’s proposals—and LaPierre’s—it will be important to reexamine the NRA’s greatest PR victory of the last few years: the greatly overworked, shamefully distorted Fast and Furious scandal. 

As Fortune reporter Katherine Eban revealed in an outstanding investigation published last summer, much of what Republicans have claimed about the scandal—including the headline-grabbing assertion that the US government intentionally provided guns to Mexican drug cartels—is false. The real story is of an agency sabotaged by the same pro-gun mania which led to the Newtown tragedy.

The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) opened up the Fast and Furious case to monitor American teenagers, who had been tapped by Mexican drug cartels to help arm the war in Mexico by becoming straw purchasers or front buyers. Our laws permit a teenager with no prior criminal record to pay cash and buy an unlimited number of military assault rifles. Their favorites included AR-15 variants like the Bushmaster .223 rifle used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Were Lanza in Arizona, he could have walked into nearly any federally licensed firearms dealer, plunked down $10,000 in cash, and left with 20 AK-47s in his hands—as do so many straw purchasers.

In a sane country, the inquiry into Brian Terry’s death would have examined all the tools that the ATF agents lacked in trying to build a case against the straw purchasers in Fast and Furious. There is no firearms trafficking statute, which would have allowed the ATF to build a swifter case that targeted the straw purchasers and their recruiters as a group. There is no comprehensive database of firearms purchases, which would have given the agents a much-needed real-time look at their suspects’ activities. In fact, the laws are so lax that the buyers didn’t even need to resort to a favored avenue for shady purchases: our totally unregulated gun shows, which require no background checks at all. (A sane country also would not have left the ATF to languish without a permanent head for fully six years—an unacceptable situation that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has rightly called on the president to address with a recess appointment.)

The Republican-led House, acting in lockstep with the NRA, twisted the facts of the ill-fated gun trafficking investigation in Phoenix to complete almost every item on its political To Do list. It used the scandal to bludgeon and destabilize the ATF, the agency charged with enforcing the nation’s gun laws. It diverted attention from the ineffective gun laws that made the ATF’s job in Fast and Furious nearly impossible. And it emerged with a cherished talking point: that the gun laws on the books right now are more than adequate, and it’s only their enforcement that has flaws.

The effort by the NRA and its friends in Congress to stymie any discussion of our permissive guns laws during its Fast and Furious investigation was made plain by the lead sled dog, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who at multiple hearings openly silenced Democratic members from even asking questions about the strength of the laws or potential legislative solutions.

If the NRA and Republican congressmen really cared about Brian Terry or his tragic death, they would have probed the actual causes underlying it, instead of proliferating a lot of phony conspiracy theories so wild, they almost left Stephen Colbert at a loss for words.

Early on in the investigation, the few reality-based ideas came from Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s ranking Democrat. Cummings held a hearing on the state of the gun laws and issued a report with recommendations including the enactment of a federal firearms trafficking statute. But the 36-month Republican-led investigation into Fast and Furious yielded not a single suggestion for strengthening the laws or empowering the ATF. Instead, it was a blueprint for reducing what passes as gun enforcement to rubble. As we’re tragically reminded over and over, that comes at a tragic price.

h/t: Katrina Vanden Heuvel at The Nation

The leader of the Religious Right gun group Gun Owners of America is warning that the government, through the health care reform law and a new service program, is going after everyday Americans. Pratt, the organization’s executive director who has ties to white supremacists, appeared on VCY America’s Crosstalk to float a number of conspiracies. Pratt alleged that the left is to blame for the Benghazi attack because of its “profound dislike of self-defense” and refusal to “believe in self-defense either personally or as a matter of national self-defense.”

But Pratt wasn’t done yet, as he went on to say that Obamacare will help the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to “take away your guns.”

There’s a big one that doesn’t get much attention as a gun measure but it is, and that’s Obamacare. Obamacare among its many unconstitutional aspects, I’m sorry Supreme Court, has made privacy something that only applies between consenting adults but not certainly our relationship with the government. It says that all of our medical records are available to be pawed through by bureaucrats somewhere in Washington, looking for a reason to disenfranchise gun owners, to say ‘oh you have a medical diagnosis that means you might be a danger to yourself or others so we’re going to come and knock on the door for the BATF to take away your guns.’

Of course, the law that screens out people such as mentally ill individuals through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to prevent them from purchasing guns was signed by President Bush, and the health care reform law [PDF] explicitly does not allow for a gigantic gun owner database or discrimination against people who own guns.

Last time I checked, the President (and basically the entire Democratic Party for that matter) will NEVER take away your guns.!

H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW

FORTUNE — In the annals of impossible assignments, Dave Voth’s ranked high. In 2009 the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives promoted Voth to lead Phoenix Group VII, one of seven new ATF groups along the Southwest border tasked with stopping guns from being trafficked into Mexico’s vicious drug war.

Some call it the “parade of ants”; others the “river of iron.” The Mexican government has estimated that 2,000 weapons are smuggled daily from the U.S. into Mexico. The ATF is hobbled in its effort to stop this flow. No federal statute outlaws firearms trafficking, so agents must build cases using a patchwork of often toothless laws. For six years, due to Beltway politics, the bureau has gone without permanent leadership, neutered in its fight for funding and authority. The National Rifle Association has so successfully opposed a comprehensive electronic database of gun sales that the ATF’s congressional appropriation explicitly prohibits establishing one.

Voth, 39, was a good choice for a Sisyphean task. Strapping and sandy-haired, the former Marine is cool-headed and punctilious to a fault. In 2009 the ATF named him outstanding law-enforcement employee of the year for dismantling two violent street gangs in Minneapolis. He was the “hardest working federal agent I’ve come across,” says John Biederman, a sergeant with the Minneapolis Police Department. But as Voth left to become the group supervisor of Phoenix Group VII, a friend warned him: “You’re destined to fail.”

Ten weeks later, an ATF agent named John Dodson, whom Voth had supervised, made startling allegations on the CBS Evening News. He charged that his supervisors had intentionally allowed American firearms to be trafficked—a tactic known as “walking guns”—to Mexican drug cartels. Dodson claimed that supervisors repeatedly ordered him not to seize weapons because they wanted to track the guns into the hands of criminal ringleaders. The program showed internal e-mails from Voth, which purportedly revealed agents locked in a dispute over the deadly strategy. The guns permitted to flow to criminals, the program charged, played a role in Terry’s death.

After the CBS broadcast, Fast and Furious erupted as a major scandal for the Obama administration. The story has become a fixture on Fox News and the subject of numerous reports in media outlets from CNN to the New York Times. The furor has prompted repeated congressional hearings—with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifying multiple times—dueling reports from congressional committees, and an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general. It has led to the resignations of the acting ATF chief, the U.S. Attorney in Arizona, and his chief criminal prosecutor.

Conservatives have pummeled the Obama administration, and especially Holder, for more than a year. “Who authorized this program that was sofelony stupid that it got people killed?” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, demanded to know in a hearing in June 2011. He has charged the Justice Department, which oversees the ATF, with having “blood on their hands.” Issa and more than 100 other Republican members of Congress have demanded Holder’s resignation.

The conflict has escalated dramatically in the past ten days. On June 20, in a day of political brinkmanship, Issa’s committee voted along party lines, 23 to 17, to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for allegedly failing to turn over certain subpoenaed documents, which the Justice Department contended could not be released because they related to ongoing criminal investigations. The vote came hours after President Obama asserted executive privilege to block the release of the documents. Holder now faces a vote by the full House of Representatives this week on the contempt motion (though negotiations over the documents continue). Assuming a vote occurs, it will be the first against an attorney general in U.S. history.

As political pressure has mounted, ATF and Justice Department officials have reversed themselves. After initially supporting Group VII agents and denying the allegations, they have since agreed that the ATF purposefully chose not to interdict guns it lawfully could have seized. Holder testified in December that “the use of this misguided tactic is inexcusable, and it must never happen again.”

There’s the rub.

Quite simply, there’s a fundamental misconception at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal. Nobody disputes that suspected straw purchasers under surveillance by the ATF repeatedly bought guns that eventually fell into criminal hands. Issa and others charge that the ATF intentionally allowed guns to walk as an operational tactic. But five law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious tell Fortune that the ATF had no such tactic. They insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn.

How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today. It’s a story that starts with a grudge, specifically Dodson’s anger at Voth. After the terrible murder of agent Terry, Dodson made complaints that were then amplified, first by right-wing bloggers, then by CBS. Rep. Issa and other politicians then seized those elements to score points against the Obama administration, which, for its part, has capitulated in an apparent effort to avoid a rhetorical battle over gun control in the run-up to the presidential election. (A Justice Department spokesperson denies this and asserts that the department is not drawing conclusions until the inspector general’s report is submitted.)

The ATF is a bureau of judgment calls. Drug enforcement agents can confiscate cocaine and arrest anyone in possession of it. But ATF agents must distinguish constitutionally protected legal guns from illegal ones, with the NRA and other Second Amendment activists watching for missteps.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

Critics have depicted the ATF as “jackbooted government thugs” trampling on the rights of law-abiding gun owners. From the deadly standoff with the Branch Davidian [BA1] cult in Waco, Texas, in 1993 to allegations that ATF agents illegally seized weapons from suspected straw purchasers at a Richmond  gun show in 2005, these scandals have helped cement the bureau’s reputation in some quarters for law-enforcement overreach.

In part because of these notorious cases, the bureau has operated in a self-protective crouch. It has stuck to small single-defendant cases to the detriment of its effort to combat gun trafficking, the Justice Department’s inspector general found in a review of ATF cases from 2007 to 2009. To refocus its efforts, the ATF established Group VII and the other Southwest border units to build big, multi-defendant conspiracy cases and target the leaders of the trafficking operations.

Meanwhile, a crucial part of the Fast and Furious scandal—an unusual alliance that would prod politicians and spread word of the failure to stop guns from making their way to Mexican drug cartels—was waiting in the wings. Little more than a week after Terry’s murder, a small item about the possible connection between his death and the Fast and Furious case appeared on a website, CleanUpATF.org. The site was the work of a disgruntled ATF agent-turned-whistleblower, Vince Cefalu, who is suing the bureau for alleged mistreatment in an unrelated case. His website has served as a clearinghouse for grievances and a magnet for other ATF whistleblowers.

It had also attracted gun-rights activists loosely organized around a blog called the Sipsey Street Irregulars, run by a former militia member, Mike Vanderboegh, who has advocated armed insurrection against the U.S. government. It was an incendiary combination: the disgruntledATF agents wanted to punish and reform the bureau; the gun-rights activists wanted to disable it. After the item about Terry appeared, the bloggers funneled the allegations through a “desert telegraph” of sorts to Republican lawmakers, who began asking questions.

Today, with Attorney General Holder now squarely in the cross hairs of Congress, Democrats and Republicans are accusing each other of political machinations. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and ranking member of the oversight committee, has accused Issa of targeting Holder as part of an “election-year witch hunt.” Issa has alleged on Fox News that Fast and Furious is part of a liberal conspiracy to restrict gun rights: “Very clearly, [the ATF] made a crisis and they are using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people’s Second Amendment rights.” (Issa has a personal history on this issue: In 1972, at age 19, he was arrested for having a concealed, loaded .25-caliber automatic in his car; he ultimately pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered gun.)

Issa’s claim that the ATF is using the Fast and Furious scandal to limit gun rights seems, to put it charitably, far-fetched. Meanwhile, Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF’s three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%.

h/t: Katherine Eban at Fortune.cnn.com

As the House prepares to vote this week on a resolution finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has once again publicly subscribed to aconspiracy theory stating that ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious was an Obama administration effort to create the political will to enact stricter gun control.

The theory holds that the Obama administration gave weapons to Mexican drug cartels in the hopes that they would commit acts of violence, that the guns would be traced back to the United States and that the public would be scared into accepting tougher restrictions on firearms.

Born on right-wing blogs, boosted by the NRA and subscribed to by members of Congress, it has Democrats banging their heads against the wall.

So, let’s say you want to think the Obama administration sent thousands of guns across the border in a mad plan to keep Americans from owning them at home. Here are five things you’d have to to believe in order to fully subscribe to the theory.

1.) That the Obama administration wanted to spend political capital on gun issues.When Fast and Furious started in 2009, the Obama administration was not talking about guns. There’s been little movement on the issue of guns their whole time in office — even after a member of Congress was shot — and the administration has in fact expanded gun rights in national parks and on Amtrak trains. The idea that they’d even want to touch the issue, or even thought that they could make any progress on it is simply not supported by the available facts.

2.) That DOJ officials contemporaneously created evidence to suggest that they never knew about the tactics being used. There are plenty of emails showing DOJ officials rejecting the first suggestions that guns were allowed to walk during Operation Fast and Furious. For the Republican-backed gun control theory to be true, officials would have had to fake conversations in which they denied that the ATF allowed guns to walk to begin with. In an email sent on Feb. 2, 2011, then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke called staffers for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) “willing stooges for the Gun Lobby.” Not exactly the kind of thing you’d write in an email if you secretly knew the allegations were new and could anticipate such an email being publicly released.

3.) That the number of weapons going to Mexico wasn’t already sufficient enough.Plenty of weapons from the U.S. were headed to Mexico before Fast and Furious got underway in 2009. In fact, more weapons were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico before Fast and Furious got underway than after it had been going on for awhile. As Holder told Congress, Fast and Furious was “a flawed response to, not the cause of, the flow of illegal guns from the United States into Mexico.” In short, the few thousands weapons sent across the border as part of the program are a fraction of the total number of American firearms that end up as part of Mexico’s drug war.

4.) The whistleblowers who brought the tactics to light were also in on the gun-control conspiracy. Last spring, ATF agents tried to testify about how “toothless” gun laws weren’t allowing them to do their jobs. Issa tried to shut down the testimony, but it’s important to note that the very same individuals who were upset with the tactic being used also believed that Congress wasn’t doing enough to stop gun trafficking.

5.) The White House pretended not to know about an emergency reporting rule request. The one measure that the Obama administration has implemented since “Fast and Furious” is a minor regulation which treats so-called “long-guns” the same as handguns, but it is only in place in four border states. The measure (which Issa contends wasn’t necessary because he trusts dealers to provide the information voluntarily) was first proposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2010, before Fast and Furious became a scandal and around the same time Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry died. Emailsobtained by TPM though a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show that officials with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) chastised the ATF for not notifying them before publishing an emergency request. Under the gun-control theory, they were lying in the email on the off-chance that someone eventually would FOIA the information.

h/t: Ryan J. Reilly at TPM

The House GOP’s drive to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress is headed for a vote by the full chamber next week. It will probably end up being symbolic, but the outcome seems preordained.

Republicans hold a majority in the House, and few administrations officials besides the president himself arouse the kind of hostility on the right that Holder does. In the Obama/Tea Party-era, when every GOP office-holder lives in fear of being deemed disloyal to the tribe and facing a primary challenge, it’s hard to imagine any House Republican not giving the base exactly what it wants and voting for the citation.

The right’s hostility toward Holder, as I mentioned on “Hardball” last night, precedes the current controversy over the ATF’s aborted Fast and Furious program. It extends back to … pretty much the moment he was picked by Obama in late 2008 to run the Justice Department. Michael Smerconish, who was filling in as host, asked me where I think it comes from and I suggested “there might be an aspect of race and culture” to it. My attempt to elaborate provoked no shortage of anger from some conservative sites. Let me try again.

Think of Rush Limbaugh warning that “in Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the black kids cheering,”depicting Obama as a burglar, and declaring that “Obama’s entire economic program is reparations; think of Glenn Beck insisting that Obama “has a deep-seated hatred for white people”; or the late Andrew Breitbart giddily leaping to false conclusion that Shirley Sherrod is bigoted against white people. These are just some obvious examples of an effort to portray the Obama presidency as a triumph of black radicalism or anti-white hostility. The idea, it seems, is to feed a sense of alarm among whites that their money, their livelihoods, and their basic place in society are all being threatened by someone who favors another group – the same kind of feelings that fed the civil rights backlash decades ago.

Viewed this way, it doesn’t seem coincidental that Holder became a target when he was nominated. After all, he wasn’t chosen to run just any Cabinet department; he was picked to be the government’s top law enforcement officer. For anyone who shares Limbaugh’s belief that it’s open season on white people in Obama’s America, this had to be a particularly unsettling development.

Holder’s appointment came as some on the right were beginning to play up the New Black Panther Party (“a cartoonish fringe group,” as Alex Pareene describes it), suggesting that Obama’s election had been aided by its voter intimidation efforts and that the new president was sympathetic to the group’s ideology. 

h/t: Steve Kornacki at Salon.com

Here is theory that some Congressional Republicans believe: The Obama Administration intentionally handed over automatic weapons to Mexican drug cartels, who they knew would commit violent acts, because they wanted to scare Americans into supporting stricter gun laws.

That supposed series of events has now led Congress to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt.

Holder is caught up in a scandal over what happened during Operation Fast and Furious, one in a series of efforts started under former President Bush, in which firearms owned by the U.S. government are intentionally sold to criminals with the hopes that they can be traced back, and criminal activity can be monitored. One such firearm turned up at the crime scene where border patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.

Republicans cite the case as a national security issue, but they’ve simultaneously turned it into an indictment over what they believe is a conspiracy aimed at taking away their own firearms. 

The man who started the conspiracy theory also rallied people to break congressional windows. Mike Vanderboegh, a man who once called for militias to break the windows of members of Congress because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, started this conspiracy theory. Rachel Maddow uncovered that Vanderboegh has been encouraging members of Congress to embrace the theory.

Major Republicans, including Darrell Issa, endorse this conspiracy theory. Among those are Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is Chair of the House Oversight Committee and is heading up the investigation of Eric Holder. In an interview on FOX, Issa said, “very clearly, they made a crisis, and they’re using this crisis to somehow take away or limit people’s Second Amendment rights.” He alsopushed the theory at an NRA convention. But Issa isn’t the only one who is buying in: former Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich just two days agoagreed with the theory. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), and many other Republicans have voiced support for this theory too.

The NRA is driving the conspiracy theory paranoia though ads. The National Rifle Association is furthering the paranoia as a way to rally gun owners by running advertisements and a petition calling on President Obama to fire Eric Holder. The ads don’t specifically mention the gun control conspiracy, but the Executive Director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action is a full-throttle conspiracy believer. The NRA also threatened members of Congress who voted on the contempt charge yesterday, saying that a vote against contempt wouldreflect poorly on that member’s pro-gun ratings.

Conspiracy theorists blame Holder for a new gun law he didn’t make. Even if one were to believe the vast conspiracy theory, a linchpin in the theorists’ argument is based on a false premise. They say that recently Holder ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to report anyone who bought more than one large gun in five day as a way to track American gun owners. In reality, ATF made a request about reporting gun purchases and the Justice Department only approved it after a delay.

Issa defended Bush for the same thing of which he is accusing Holder. Issa has been tearing apart Holder for not wanting to hand over private communications from the Justice Department that could compromise ongoing criminal investigations. But when George Bush refused to do the same thing in 2007, Issa blasted the move as a “political witch hunt.”

h/t: Annie-Rose Strasser at Think Progress

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) announced Wednesday that the full House would consider a resolution finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress next week. The House Oversight Committe voted Wednesday afternoon to find Holder in contempt because they allege he failed to turn over documents related to the committee’s investigation into the botched ATF operation known as Fast and Furious.

h/t: TPM LiveWire

In her new book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up, Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich offers up a number of false and misleading claims about the ATF’s fatally flawed Operation Fast and Furious. In doing so Pavlich baselessly suggests that high-ranking Justice Department officials were aware of that operation’s use of the tactic of gunwalking, in which agents knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico in order to identify other members of a trafficking network.

Pavlich Dubiously Played Up Importance Of Holder’s “Brief[ings]” On Fast And Furious

CLAIM: Attorney General Eric Holder “Was Briefed At Least Five Times On” Fast And Furious.From the book:

Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder, their ultimate boss, was finding that his testimony denying any knowledge of Fast and Furious before it was reported in the newspapers was fast unraveling.

On October 3, 2011, the Justice Department finally released a tranche of long-sought documents. Among them were memos demonstrating that Attorney General Holder was briefed on Operation Fast and Furious on a regular basis starting as early as July 5, 2010. According to the documents, Holder was briefed at least five times on the program

[…]

Holder responded by saying he never read the memos and blamed his staff for failing to inform him about Fast and Furious. To “clarify” his earlier testimony, Holder sent a letter to the House Oversight Committee:

Much has been made in the past few days about my congressional testimony earlier this year regarding Fast and Furious. My testimony was truthful and accurate and I have been consistent on this point throughout. I have no recollection of knowing about Fast and Furious or hearing its name prior to the public controversy about it. Prior to early 2011, I certainly never knew about the tactics employed in the operation and it is my understanding that the former United States Attorney for the District of Arizona and the former Acting Director and Deputy Director of ATF have told Congress that they, themselves, were unaware of the tactics employed.

Chairman Issa, among many other members of Congress, found the claims unpersuasive. “It appears your latest defense has reached a new low,” Issa told Holder. “You now claim that you were unaware of Fast and Furious because your staff failed to inform you of information contained in memos that were specifically addressed to you. At best, this indicates negligence and incompetence in your duties as Attorney General. At worst, it places your credibility in serious doubt.” [Fast and Furious, p. 127, 129-130]

REALITY: As Holder Noted, “None Of These [Memos] Say Anything About The Unacceptable Tactics Employed By ATF.” In the letter to the House Oversight Committee quoted by Pavlich, Holder makes clear that the documents in question are “weekly reports [that] contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week,” that “over a hundred pages” of such documents arrive each week addressed to him and are reviewed by his staff, and that “none of these summaries say anything about the unacceptable tactics employed by ATF”:

In the past few days, some have pointed to documents that we provided to Congress as evidence that I was familiar with Fast and Furious earlier than I have testified. That simply is not the case and those suggestions mischaracterize the process by which I receive information concerning the activities of the Department’s many components. On a weekly basis, my office typically receives over a hundred pages of so-called “weekly reports” that, while addressed to me, actually are provided to and reviewed by members of my staff and the staff of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. The weekly reports contain short summaries of matters that the agencies deem of interest that week. Sometimes, the summaries are simply a sentence-long and other times they consist of a paragraph. In some cases, the summaries are of policy-related issues or upcoming events. In other cases, the summaries are brief, high-level reviews of pending matters or investigations. It is important to look at the documents supposedly at issue here and, for that reason, I have attached them to this letter and am making them public in the form they previously were provided by us to Congress. Please not that none of these summaries say anything about the unacceptable tactics employed by ATF. [Holder letter, 10/7/11]

Pavlich Falsely Claimed ATF Agents Who Headed Fast And Furious Were “Promot[ed]”

CLAIM: ATF’s Newell And Voth Received “Promotion[s].” From the book.

These revelations did not prevent the promotion of some of the leaders of Operation Fast and Furious. In early August 2011, it was announced that Bill Newell had been promoted to ATF headquarters as a special assistant to the assistant director of the agency’s Office of Management, and Fast and Furious Supervisor David Voth, who had a habit of threatening subordinates and directly oversaw straw purchasing, was offered a promotion in ATF’s Tobacco Division. [Fast and Furious, p. 126-127]

REALITY: ATF Says They Were Lateral Moves Without Increased Responsibility Or Salary. From the Los Angeles Times:

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that three supervisors in its controversial Fast and Furious gun-trafficking investigation were transferred to lateral jobs, not promoted.

"They did not receive salary or grade increases, nor did they assume positions with greater responsibility," the agency said in a short statement. …

"These transfers/reassignments have never been described as promotions in any of the documents announcing them," the ATF’s statement said. [LA Times8/17/11]

Pavlich Falsely Claims “Liberal Media” Called The Fast And Furious Story A “Conspiracy Theor[y]”

CLAIM: “The Explicitly Liberal Media Treated The Fast And Furious Story As… ‘One Of The Right’s Latest Conspiracy Theories.’” From the book:

Like the New York Times and the Washington Post, the explicitly liberal media treated the Fast and Furious story as the leftist magazine Mother Jones did, calling it “one of the right’s latest conspiracy theories.” The left-wing news blog Talking Points Memo called the connection between Fast and Furious and the Obama administration’s gun control agenda “outlandish.” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart called it “f*****g crazy.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said the coverage of Fast and Furious was a result of “the insane paranoid message from the NRA.” The George Soros-funded Media Matters for America called it “hysterical rhetoric.” Chris Matthews said that those who deemed fast and Furious worthy of investigation were “another strain of the crazy far right.” [Fast and Furious, p. 84]

REALITY: In Some Cases Media Were Referring To The Conspiracy Theory That The Obama Administration Had The Operation Deliberately Fail To Bolster Gun Control Efforts, Not The Scandal Itself.

  • Mother Jones reported:

With the help of the National Rifle Association, Fast and Furious has become one of the right’s latest conspiracy theories. It goes something like this: Fast and Furious was actually a scheme by Holder to promote gun control. The NRA claims that Holder allowed American gun dealers to sell AK-47s and other powerful assault rifles so that they would be used to kill people in the Mexican drug war, thereby creating the political will for more restrictions on gun ownership in the United States. [Mother Jones12/7/11]

  • Talking Points Memo reported:

Some, like Rep. Darrell Issa, have suggested that the Obama administration decided after the scandal broke to discuss the larger issue of gun trafficking and the need for better tools (like a rule requiring dealers to report sales of multiple “long guns”) to stop it.

But there’s a separate category of individuals who buy into a more outlandish scenario: those who believe that Fast and Furious was launched by the Obama administration to implement gun control. [TPM Media, 12/16/11]

REALITY: In Other Cases Media Were Actually Referring To Comments From The NRA, Not Fast And Furious.

  • On MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews said:

MATTHEWS: Well, here`s something — another strain of the crazy far right. Here`s the National Rifle Association`s Wayne Lapierre — and I`ve known this guy a long time. I`m astounded by this new accusation that the president is leading some conspiracy. Anyway, here he is, Wayne Lapierre, head of the NPR — not National Public Radio, National Rifle Association, at the conservative conference if Florida last week. Let`s listen to Wayne Lapierre of the National Rifle Association.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The president will offer the 2nd Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he`s actually been good for the 2nd Amendment. But it`s a big, fat, stinking lie! It`s all part — it`s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the 2nd Amendment in our country!

Before the president was even sworn into office, they met and they hatched a conspiracy of public deception to try to guarantee his reelection in 2012.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [MSNBC, Hardball, 9/27/11, via Nexis]

  • Jon Stewart said of LaPierre’s comment, “it’s so crazy, it’s fucking crazy.” Stewart did not discuss Fast and Furious during that segment. [Comedy Central, The Daily Show9/29/11]
  • Rachel Maddow highlighted the same comment from LaPierre, saying: “The NRA says the way you can tell Obama is coming for your guns is that he’s not coming for your guns. It’s genius. That is the insane paranoid message from the NRA this year.” [MSNBC, The Rachel Maddow Show10/1/11]
  • Media Matters reported: “For years, the NRA has warned that nationwide gun bans and confiscation were right around the corner. These threats made up in hysterical rhetoric for what they lacked in credibility.” [Media Matters12/27/11]

Pavlich Falsely Claimed Holder Said School Massacres Proved Second Amendment Should Be Read As Collective Right

CLAIM: Holder “Insisted” VA Tech, Columbine Massacres “Evidence Enough” Second Amendment Is Not An Individual Right. From Pavlich’s book:

One year before Obama’s election, Holder joined an amicus brief with Janet Reno defending Washington, D.C., against a resident challenging the city’s ban on guns. Although the Supreme Court overturned the ban and rejected Holder’s arguments, Holder insisted that the Virginia Tech and Columbine massacres proved “the deadly toll that firearms exact” and were evidence enough that the Second Amendment should be read as a collective, not an individual, right. [Fast and Furious, p. 22]

REALITY: Brief Actually Cited Court Precedent, Text Of Second Amendment And Its Drafting History And Historical Context. While the amicus brief joined by Holder did reference the Virginia Tech and Columbine massacres in passing, the thrust of its argument was that the Supreme Court should construe the Second Amendment as a collective right was:

As the briefs filed by the petitioners and their amici in this case explain, the original, longstanding position of the Department of Justice [that the Second Amendment should be read as a collective right], embraced by this Court in Miller and by all the federal courts of appeals until the Emerson decision and the decision below, is firmly rooted in the text of the Second Amendment, its drafting history, and the historical context in which it was enacted.  Given the strength of the Department’s original position and its acceptance by the courts, the decision to abandon it in 2001 was unjustified. 

The decision was also unwise.  Recognition of an expansive individual right to keep and bear arms for private purposes will make it more difficult for the government to defend present and future firearms laws.  With gun violence continuing to plague the United States, this Court should adhere to the position it staked out nearly 70 years ago in Miller and construe the Second Amendment to protect a right to keep and bear arms only to the extent the exercise of such a right is related to the “preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” [Brief for former Department of Justice officials as amici curiae supporting petitioners, District of Columbia v. HellerJanuary 2008

REALITY: In June 2010 Fox News Pushed False Story That The Refuge Had Recently Been Closed And That Obama Gave Area “Back To Mexico.” On June 15 Fox’s Shanon Bream reported: “A massive stretch of Arizona now off limits to Americans. Critics say the administration is, in effect, giving a major strip of the Southwest back to Mexico.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom7/15/10, via Media Matters

h/t: MMFA