There’s been a lot of Internet chatter this week about the insufficiency of gun laws that enabled a violent felon like Ismaaiyl Brinsley to get his hands on a gun, bring it up to New York City after assaulting a girlfriend in Baltimore, and then use it to murder two NYPD cops. And first and foremost on the list of stricter gun controls is the idea of instituting background checks on all gun transactions, not just the initial sale between dealer and customer that moves every gun into the civilian arsenal in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to sensible measures that will reduce gun violence, but I think the continued attempt by gun-sense advocates to push for universal background checks at the national level is something that won’t happen, nor under the present regulatory system am I convinced that it should. Any expansion of background checks means an expansion in the authority and regulatory reach of the ATF and frankly, when it comes to enforcing the gun laws we already have on the books, I don’t get the warm and fuzzies looking at the job they’ve done.
On February 28, 1993 the ATF so badly bungled the serving of a search warrant on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco that the end result was 4 ATF agents killed, along with 76 members of the Branch Davidian sect. The ATF wanted to search the Mt. Carmel compound because they were convinced, on the basis of not a shred of credible information, that David Koresh and his followers were converting semi-auto assault rifles into full-auto weapons which they were going to use in an assault on ‘non-believers’ living in Waco and God knows where else. This theory of an imminent Branch Davidian Armageddon-like attack was pure nonsense, and what wasn’t pure nonsense was pure crap.
Not only didn’t the ATF learn anything from this fiasco, but they upped the ante in a bizarre investigation called Fast and Furious which was conducted in Phoenix and Tucson between 2006 and 2010. This time they actively encouraged and managed the straw sales of more than 2,500 guns which were allegedly headed for Mexico and the Sinaloa drug cartel. Once again, the ATF was convinced without a single bit of evidence that the straw purchasers were converting semi-auto ARs and AKs into automatic weapons, using local auto-body shops both to stash and re-do the guns. The so-called ‘mastermind’ behind this gun-running operation was a 26-year old schlub, Manuel Celis-Acosta, who, it turns out, was also working as an informant for the FBI. At one point an ATF supervisor actually let Celis-Acosta walk away from an arrest, wrote her phone number on the back of a ten-dollar bill and made him ‘promise’ to call her back. Of course he called her back. Of course. Talk about the Keystone Kops.
Of course once the Republicans heard about this whole mess, they did what they can always be counted on doing, namely, ignored the stupidity and possible malfeasance of the ATF in order to grandstand a Congressional hearing which turned into the usual ‘let’s get the President’ kind of thing. It’s really too bad that Congressman Issa (R-CA) didn’t take a long and hard look at Fast and Furious, if only because he knows more about illegal guns than you think. In 1972 he was arrested and convicted for driving around with an unregistered gun in his car, which sounds a little bit like what the ATF did with Celis-Acosta, except Celis-Acosta didn’t show up in court.
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has been pushing a gun trafficking bill year after year but it won’t ever reach the floor. The truth is that the numero uno gun trafficker in the United States is a federal law-enforcement agency called the ATF. I’d love to see the local cops be given more tools and resources in the battle against illegal guns. Up until now, unfortunately, waiting for the ATF to provide such help has been like waiting for Godot.