Was Fast and Furious intended to promote gun control?

As John notes here, Bill Whittle is arguing that the Fast and Furious program was an effort by the Obama administration to increase bloodshed in Mexico and thereby lead to tougher gun control regulation in the U.S. This theory has been around for a while, and may receive a wider hearing now that Obama has asserted a weak privilege claim to prevent the disclosure of some Fast and Furious documents.

The theory cannot be ruled out. However, I don’t find it persuasive.

First, Fast and Furious does not appear to have been the brainchild of President Obama or Attorney General Holder. Rather, the program reportedly was formulated by the ATF in Phoenix in response to an edict from Washington to focus on eliminating arms trafficking networks, as opposed to capturing low-level buyers, as had occurred under traditional interdiction programs. If Fast and Furious had been the product of a conspiracy by the administration to promote gun control legislation, the program would have come from the top down, not from the bottom up.

Now, it’s possible that a thorough review of documents would show that, contrary to current understanding, the plan originated in the White House or with Eric Holder. But it seems unlikely. For if this had happened, those who have been blamed for the program would likely have said they were following edicts from the highest reaches of the government.

Eric Holder’s claim that he knew nothing about Fast and Furious is implausible. But this doesn’t mean that he and/or the president came up with the idea. As far as I know, there is no evidence as of now that either did.

Second, Obama and Holder probably would not have believed that increased violence in Mexico could lead to tougher regulation of guns in the U.S. Americans simply don’t care enough about Mexico to alter domestic policy based on what occurs there, especially when it comes to an issue as passionately and endlessly argued as gun control. Americans view violence in Mexico the way they viewed violence in Colombia – unfortunate, typical, and not our problem at any fundamental level.

It was always possible that a few Americans, especially some involved in law enforcement, would be killed with guns that were part of Fast and Furious. But in this event, the probable consequence is what we have witnessed – major embarrassment for the administration, not an effective vehicle for advocating more gun control. On balance, it seems unlikely that the administration would come up with a program this risky in the pie-in-the-sky hope of incresing gun control.

Why, then, was the program implemented? As noted, considerable frustration existed over attempts to deal with gun running through interdiction at the point of sale because this form of enforcement resulted in the apprehension of only the small fry. Those who came up with Fast and Furious probably hoped that if guns followed their natural course into Mexico, they would lead to much more important players. Wire taps and other surveillance of Mexican cartel bosses would assist in nailing these players, or so the thinking went.

It was a very bad idea, poorly executed. But, as conservatives should understand better than most, the government frequently implements very bad ideas and does so incompetently. In any case, trying to apprehend cartel bosses through Fast and Furious strikes me as less foolish than intentionally increasing shootings in Mexico to enhance the cause of gun control in the U.S.

But what about the cover-up, including the assertion of a weak executive privilege claim? Bill Whittle says that to understand it, we should follow the ideology. In reality, cover-ups typically stem from a quintessentially non-ideological motive – the desire to escape blame and stay out of trouble.

What kind of trouble? The administration may be motivated by the desire to cover up evidence that the Attorney General knowingly and deliberately lied to Congress. It may want to cover up evidence that Holder knew plenty about Fast and Furious and/or that Obama did too.

But it’s unlikely that the administration invoked executive privilege to cover up evidence that it formulated or authorized Fast and Furious in order to promote an ideological agenda. As John points out, Darrell Issa’s Oversight Committee is pressing its subpoena with respect only to internal DOJ documents that post-date February 4, 2011, and relate to DOJ’s responses to Congress’s inquiries about the program. Therefore, Obama in all likelihood did not need to assert an executive privilege claim to shield evidence of the origins, ideological or otherwise, of the Fast and Furious program.

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