Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Made in the U.S.A." Is Not the Problem

I was watching the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing today on the oversight of the Department of Justice. The sole witness was Attorney General Eric Holder, who would be called upon to answer for "Operation Fast and Furious," a failed DOJ/ Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) program that was meant to snare cartels in gun trafficking. I tweeted the first part of the hearing, but I wanted to discuss an op-ed by two state attorneys general that Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) had put in the Congressional Record (courtesy of Emptywheel's @bmaz):
Congress and the media have understandably focused on the missteps of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the “Fast and Furious” sting operation that allowed suspected “straw buyers” to purchase weapons and transport them to Mexico in order to build cases against drug cartels.
However, the covert operation was terminated abruptly after its possible connection to the tragic death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was revealed. Unfortunately, most of the recent criticism about the operation seems to be serving as a means to attack Attorney General Eric Holder and destroy the ATF, rather than to hold those behind Fast and Furious accountable.

The focus should be on the real public safety problem underlying this controversy: keeping arms from the Mexican drug cartels and protecting the security of the United States. However, many of the roadblocks faced by ATF and the Department of Justice are not being built by international criminals, but by Congress. (Emphasis mine)
The piece goes on to explain the prolific violence in Mexico and that 95% of the guns recovered from Mexican drug violence 'can be traced to the United States.' This sounds troubling, but it's really smoke and mirrors.

As I've detailed in the past, drug violence in Mexico is indeed rampant and unspeakably brutal. People are kidnapped, murdered, often tortured, strung up from overpasses, disemboweled, and/or beheaded. Does it really matter whether the murderers bought their ropes and machetes from stores in Tuscon or Tijuana?

It's the murderers, stupid.

If we could magically keep American guns out of the hands of the cartels, people would start being gunned down with a greater percentage of AK-47s sold in other countries than AR-10s made and sold in America, but they would still be gunned down. The cartels have planes, boats, and more than enough money to get whatever they want through their expansive networks. Making it marginally more difficult to acquire weapons may be good policy insofar as we want better, more sensible gun laws in this country, but it's hardly the "real public safety problem" facing our law enforcement agencies and the public at large.

The cartels make astronomical profits from selling the drugs banned by the United States' global prohibition policy. That money gets them access to the entire planet and all its terrible weapons that make their line of work so bloody. Ramped up interdiction efforts just make drug dealing more dangerous, but also more lucrative, and thus more enticing. So, when you think about it, the real public safety problem is the one that enables and incentivizes the cartels to commit heinous crimes in the first place: the Drug War itself.

Arguing about where the cartels bought their guns is like arguing the make of the bus that just hit you: it's trivial, at best, and probably a sign you have brain damage.

bellum medicamenti delenda est

UPDATE: This isn't meant to be a dismissal of the ineptitude that plagued Operation Fast and Furious. This was a post about the underlying problems, not the highly questionable tactics employed in that operation.

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