What if it wasn’t a “Fast and Furious” gun that was used to kill US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near Rio Rico, Arizona that fateful day in December 2010?
It’s the question no one is asking, and the concept that everyone is ignoring. In the meantime, members of Congress, federal and local law enforcement, pro-gun and anti-ATF activists, and much of the American public is focused on skewering the ATF and Department of Justice—in many cases, rightfully so—for a botched operation designed to identify Mexican arms smugglers.
Operation Fast and Furious was initiated by the ATF in mid-2009 as a sort of sting operation. It was designed as an attempt to identify the people at the highest levels of Mexican weapons smuggling organizations by knowingly allowing their hired hands to buy guns in the US, then smuggle them into Mexico. The ATF intended to track these guns to their final destinations and hopefully make some arrests.
But many things went horribly wrong. The ATF started to lose track of hundreds of guns they allowed law-abiding gun shops to sell. Fast and Furious guns started showing up at crime scenes across Mexico, and were also being seized in the US. What really brought the operation into the public eye was the fact that two Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene where Agent Terry was killed.
However, the tiny—and crucial—fact that all these people fail to remember is that the gun that was actually used to kill Agent Terry was never found, and as such, no one knows if that gun was part of the Fast and Furious program, or if it came from a different gun shop in the US that was never part of the program, or if it came from a non-US source altogether.
When Mexican cartels want to purchase weapons in the US, they hire US citizens with clean records and no criminal history—called straw men—to buy those guns for them. They go to gun stores, pawn shops, and gun shows with a cartel laundry list and buy these guns legally, more or less. They only thing they do wrong is lie on an ATF form where it asks if the guns they’re purchasing are for personal use; obviously, they’re not. Once they have the guns in hand, they pass them off to a middle man, and their part in the deal is done.
This was the critical part in the Fast and Furious operation that is coming under fire. The vast majority of American gun sellers will immediately call the ATF when they detect a suspicious transaction by a possible straw buyer. Under Fast and Furious, for at least a year the ATF directed these gun sellers to allow the transactions to take place—called letting the guns “walk”—and often with much protest by the seller.
After the guns are handed off, the middleman distributed the guns to multiple couriers, who then spread out along the various ports of entry on our southwest border with Mexico. Since Mexican authorities don’t inspect inbound traffic and our Customs and Border Protection agents are charged with inspecting only ten percent of outbound traffic, the couriers’ odds of success in smuggling the guns into Mexico is very high.
Once the guns arrive at their final destinations in Mexico, they’re usually stored at stash houses or warehouses for later use by cartel assassins or smugglers. This is another crucial point to understand: it’s highly likely that Fast and Furious guns were mixed in with non-Fast and Furious guns in various storage locations across Mexico. When the smugglers in the group that confronted Agent Terry and his partners picked (or were provided) the guns they had with them that December day, they received them randomly from probably a large selection of mixed firearms.
In other words, had Fast and Furious never existed, those bandits still would have had guns that day, and they still would have killed Agent Terry.
It’s easy to suggest that Fast and Furious was directly responsible for his murder, and to indict all of ATF and the Department of Justice for it. We’re a nation that holds people accountable for their negligent actions, and people want to be able to point the finger at someone identifiable for his tragic death. The ATF and many in the DOJ certainly engaged in abysmally poor decision-making, and there’s no doubt that high-level heads will - and should - roll. Despite being well intentioned, Fast and Furious was poorly conceived and should have been halted long ago.
But the real murderer of Agent Terry is a Mexican smuggler. He will likely never be identified, and the gun he used to kill Terry will likely never be found and traced. This fact is unacceptable to many because people in the accountability business hate not having an answer, or a real person to point their fingers at. The people ultimately associated with Fast and Furious will hopefully be held accountable for their negligence.
But Congress and our law enforcement agencies absolutely cannot lose sight of the fact that we are fighting a war with Mexico against savage cartels who will stop at nothing—including the murder of American agents—to continue raking in billions of dollars in drug profits. They’re the real enemy, and some anger and energy needs to be spared so Congress and US law enforcement agencies can truly focus on stopping them.