U.S. guns have been widely used by Mexican drug cartels. While U.S. gun dealers aren’t supposed to sell weapons to the cartels, a lot of dealers have been selling guns to straw purchasers who smuggle the guns to the cartels. The ATF could arrest and prosecute some individual gun smuggler, but solving the problem requires building a case against the big fish gun dealers who know their guns are going to the cartels.
The idea was to follow the little guys until they meet up with the big bad guys. This sometimes meant preventing local law enforcement from arresting the guy they were using as baid. In the end, they were supposed to out cinematically, arrest everybody, and grab all the guns. Then they could build a legal case against some seriously bad guys.
What Actually Happened
The ATF helped the smugglers get where they were going, then the ATF lost the guns. The guns were found at the scenes of a few murders, including the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent.
At this point, pretty much everybody agrees that the whole project was bungled in both concept and execution. With that said, it’s a political lightning rod for two reasons.
First, a lot of conservatives really don’t like Attorney General Holder and are looking for any excuse to discredit him or push for his resignation. This may be connected to the fact that Attorney General Holder has been willing to prosecute cases against people who make political donations.
Second, the root problem Fast and Furious investigated is the problem that U.S. gun dealers are selling guns that are being used in murders in Mexico. Fast and Furious connected the dots between U.S. sellers and the cartels. When we’re selling assault rifles that end up with some really nasty people, we might want to tighten our gun laws. And that has some conservatives in an uproar. Rush Limbaugh for example, is claiming that Fast and Furious was a deliberate effort to get U.S. guns into the hands of the cartels in order to build a political case for an assault rifle ban.
The Bottom Line
Fast and Furious was an ill-concieved attempt to tackle the problem of gun-running and straw-purchases in a big way using existing law. Despite this, the weapons Fast and Furious let through are only a drop in the bucket. It didn’t create the problem—it just failed to solve it. Now the (predictable) failure of Fast and Furious is being used to prevent efforts to place basic restrictions on how many assault weapons one person can buy in a day.