For CeaseFirePA, Pennsylvania's most strident gun control outfit, the timing of the Eric Holder mess could not be worse.
When U.S. Attorney General Holder was held in contempt of Congress on Thursday, it put a spotlight on a fiasco — the federal "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking operation — which gun control advocates would just as soon not have publicized.
I'll get to some details of Fast and Furious and the action against Holder, but just two days before that happened, CeaseFirePA issued the latest salvo in its campaign to advance gun control. As I noted in April CeaseFirePA has issued "torrents of press releases" attacking legislation that would "keep municipalities from enacting illegal hodgepodge gun ordinances."
If each municipality can enact its own unique statute, it will prevent law-abiding citizens from being armed for self-defense, because nobody but law enforcement could move from town to town without facing new restrictions at every town line.
To get their foot in the door, they start with proposals that sound reasonable, such as a requirement for people to report lost or stolen guns, and dozens of Pennsylvania municipalities (including Allentown and Wilson) have already taken such steps. One of the problems with that is state law, which explicitly says municipalities cannot enact their own ordinances to regulate firearms.
I would not oppose a statewide law limited to the reporting requirement, and CeaseFirePA wouldn't, either, but lobbyists on the other side have prevented it, and the gun control lobby's approach is to simply let municipalities violate the law.
The proposed legislation, CeaseFirePA said Tuesday, is an "outrageous bill" that would let "the gun lobby … use our own state courts to slam cities and towns that have taken local action against illegal gun traffickers." (In other words, it makes it easier for outlaw municipalities to be sued when they violate somebody's rights.)
The bill was passed by the state Senate in March and is now before the House, where there is a fight to fill it with various gun control amendments that have nothing to do with illegal municipal ordinances or any requirement to report lost or stolen guns.
On Friday, the top item on CeaseFirePA's website discussed the need for requirements to report lost or stolen guns, saying such "reforms" are needed "to crack down on straw purchasers — people who buy guns and then sell them illegally to people who can't buy them on their own."
The only people qualified to deal with such "straw purchasers," gun control advocates feel, are government authorities.
That brings us back to Holder and the Fast and Furious operation, a big embarrassment to those who want government authorities, and only government authorities, to have any real ability to arm themselves for self-defense. They want to force regular law-abiding citizens to depend entirely on government (the police, etc.) — the way it works in Mexico.
Fast and Furious was a program, handled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to crack down on straw purchasers by the bad guys.
The program, which began in George W. Bush's administration and continued under President Obama, cooked up a plan to have 2,500 firearms sold in ATF-arranged straw purchases near the Mexican border and then track them to the leaders of Mexican crime cartels. That, it was anticipated, would help put those cartels out of business.
Alas, the ATF lost track of nearly all the guns, and more than 200 Mexican civilians (who, by Mexican law, are not allowed to defend themselves) were killed by guns linked to the operation. Also, not a single major crime cartel figure was ever caught.
The slaughter of Mexican civilians with ATF guns did not seem to bother anybody in Washington, but in December 2010, Brian Terry, a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, was killed in a firefight near Nogales, Ariz., (I have been there and it's a beautiful area) and two of the rifles dropped at the site turned out to be from Fast and Furious.
Some of the Fast and Furious weapons that went to Mexico via the ATF's straw purchases, it was reported, included an anti-aircraft machine gun and some grenade launchers, both found at the home of a cartel member in Ciudad Juarez. (I've been there, too. Not so beautiful.)
That puts the danger of "straw purchases" in an entirely different light.
When Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., and other congressmen started poking around at what happened, the Obama administration slammed the door on 1,500 pages of documents on the gun-tracking operation, with the president exercising "executive privilege" to keep anybody, especially the public, from finding out what happened.
Executive privilege has been used by other presidents, and in 2007, Obama attacked Bush for trying "to hide behind executive privilege every time there's something a little shaky that's taking place."
To say Fast and Furious was a little shaky probably does not go far enough, and all this led to Holder being held in contempt of Congress for trying to cover up the mess.
This might be a good time for CeaseFirePA to shift to other arguments, and to stop using terms like "straw purchases" to prove that only government authorities are qualified to deal with firearms.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.