Gunwalker: From Obama's Inauguration to Issa's Report

Major scandals don’t always have the most dramatic beginnings. Andrew Johnson was impeached for replacing the sitting secretary of war; Richard Nixon’s collapse started with a breaking and entering. Bill Clinton’s infamy was guaranteed for quibbling over the definition of a common verb.

It now appears that high-ranking officials in the Obama administration may be writing the end of their careers and risking a life behind bars by arguing about the technical definition of “walking” firearms.

“Gunwalker” now involves the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); its parent agency, the Department of Justice (DOJ); the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and the White House itself. But to understand the depth of the scandal you must return to its roots at the beginning of the Obama adminstration.

Within weeks of President Obama’s inauguration in January of 2009, newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder began to craft the meme that Mexican drug cartel violence was rooted in what they view as lax American gun laws. By February 4, we were hearing the infamous “90 percent lie,” the administration’s false accusation that 90 percent of the guns used in cartel crime could be traced to U.S. gun shops.

The assertion was not based upon the total percentage of civilian-origin firearms captured from Mexican cartels and traced back to U.S. gun shops, but upon the small percentage of weapons that the Mexican government saw markings on which indicated they could have come from or through the States. Only this much smaller percentage of guns were sent to the ATF for tracing. Unsurprisingly, a large percentage of guns with U.S. markings did come from the U.S., but they were a small fraction of the total number of guns confiscated by Mexican authorities.

How large was the discrepancy between the Obama administration’s lie and reality?

Mexico has more than 300,000 confiscated weapons locked in vaults. Mexico has asked the U.S. government to trace just a small fraction of those, including just 11,000 in 2007-2008, of which a little more than half -- close to 6,000 -- were successfully traced. This means roughly 5,000 of the 11,000 submitted could not be traced at all. Of those 6,000 guns that could be traced, 5,114 were traced to the U.S.

It is unknown how many of those traced weapons were purchased in U.S. gun shops, how many were stolen, and how many were Mexican military weapons sold to cartels by deserting Mexican soldiers.

A few thousand firearms out of more than 300,000 doesn’t make for a good crisis, so the Obama administration lied: again and again they pushed the 90 percent lie in the media, hoping to spur calls for gun control.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tipped the administration’s hand just a little more than a month into Obama’s term, using cartel violence as an excuse to push for reinstatement of the failed Clinton-era “assault weapons” ban. The ban, part of the 1994 crime bill, outlawed several firearms by name and limited the number of certain other cosmetic features that politicians thought were scary, even though they did not have anything to do with a firearm’s rate of fire or accuracy. Examples of the cosmetic features banned included bayonet lugs, pistol grips, and barrel shrouds. Manufacturers released the exact same firearms, sans the offending cosmetics, the very next day with no reduction in lethality. The result of this pseudo-ban was to make these firearms more attractive to Americans, who purchased these weapons in far greater numbers than they ever had before.

The ban also stopped the new manufacture of standard capacity and high capacity magazines, but did nothing to address the ownership or sales of existing magazines. Wholesalers and retailers had millions of magazines in their warehouses, and they were available for retail, catalog, mail-order, and internet purchase throughout the life of the ban.

The “law of unintended consequences” also resulted in handgun manufacturers deciding that if they were going to be stuck dealing with an entirely arbitrary magazine capacity limit of ten rounds, then they would make the smallest ten-shot pistols imaginable. Because of the 1994 ban, we have an entirely new class of powerful subcompact centerfire pistols, and entirely new gun companies dedicated to better serving that market.

After the Obama administration was firmly rebuffed, they were forced to publicly withdraw their call for a reinstatement of the ban in March, though they still pushed the 90 percent lie.

By April, the administration began shifting resources to the border states as part of a “federal blitz,” and announced to great fanfare that they were going to step up efforts to stop gun and drug trafficking across the border -- portraying American gun dealers as a key part of the problem. The political messaging being pushed by the White House through the DOJ, the DHS, and the ATF was so overt that by late April, the National Rifle Association warned their members about the scapegoating.