By Dave Workman
While dust still swirls around the outcome of last night’s blistering debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, an important question that moderator Candy Crowley seemed to steer away from as soon as it was raised was about Operation Fast and Furious.
Romney dropped it like a grenade in the middle of a verbal joust over gun control, and it is evident that nobody saw it coming. Here’s the transcript of Romney’s remarks as published by National Public Radio:
“The — the greatest failure we’ve had with regards to gun violence, in some respects,” Romney said, “is what is known as Fast and Furious, which was a program under this administration — and how it worked exactly, I think we don’t know precisely — but where thousands of automatic and — and AK-47-type weapons were — were given to people that ultimately gave them to — to drug lords. They used those weapons against — against their own citizens and killed Americans with them.
“And this was a — this was a program of the government,” the Republican added. “For what purpose it was put in place, I can’t imagine. But it’s one of the great tragedies related to violence in our society which has occurred during this administration which I think the American people would like to understand fully. It’s been investigated to a degree, but the administration has — has carried out executive privilege to prevent all the information from coming out. I’d like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence — thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords.”
As this column noted earlier, Crowley jumped in and deflected the conversation to a perceived Romney weakness on guns, his signing of legislation while Massachusetts governor that many in the gun rights community view as a semi-auto ban. But as this column revealed, the Gun Owners Action league of Massachusetts does not see it that way at all. Indeed, their website defends what Romney did, calling it a “great victory” for gun owners.
Examiner spoke briefly Wednesday with Mike Sweeney, GOAL communications manager, and he confirmed that many gun rights activists have misunderstood for several years what happened as a result of the legislation. According to Sweeney and the GOAL website, this is what the Romney-enacted legislation accomplished:
•“Established the Firearm License Review Board (FLRB). The 1998 law created new criteria for disqualifying citizens for firearms licenses that included any misdemeanor punishable by more than two years even if no jail time was ever served.
•For instance, a first conviction of operating a motor vehicle under the influence would result in the loss of your ability to own a handgun for life and long guns for a minimum of five years. This Board is now able to review cases under limited circumstances to restore licenses to individuals who meet certain criteria.
•“Mandated that a minimum of $50,000 of the licensing fees be used for the operation of the FLRB so that the Board would not cease operating under budget cuts.
•“Extended the term of the state’s firearm licenses from 4 years to 6 years.
•“Permanently attached the federal language concerning assault weapon exemptions in 18 USC 922 Appendix A to the Massachusetts assault weapons laws. This is the part that the media misrepresented.
•“In 1998 the Massachusetts legislature passed its own assault weapons ban (MGL Chapter 140, Section 131M). This ban did not rely on the federal language and contained no sunset clause. Knowing that we did not have the votes in 2004 to get rid of the state law, we did not want to lose all of the federal exemptions that were not in the state law so this new bill was amended to include them.
•“Re-instated a 90 day grace period for citizens who were trying to renew their firearm license. Over the past years, the government agencies in charge had fallen months behind in renewing licenses. At one point it was taking upwards of a year to renew a license. Under Massachusetts law, a citizen cannot have a firearm or ammunition in their home with an expired license.
•“Mandated that law enforcement must issue a receipt for firearms that are confiscated due to an expired license. Prior to this law, no receipts were given for property confiscated which led to accusations of stolen or lost firearms after they were confiscated by police.
•“Gave free license renewal for law enforcement officers who applied through their employing agency.
•“Changed the size and style of a firearm license to that of a driver’s license so that it would fit in a normal wallet. The original license was 3” x 4”.
•“Created stiffer penalties for armed home invaders.”
Still, many in the firearms community will refuse to accept GOAL’s perspective as they have convinced themselves of Romney’s anti-gun sentiments. One would think that if Romney is as bad as his critics believe, GOAL would be confirming that, since the organization has nothing to gain or lose by telling what it believes to be the truth.
Crowley’s intervention Tuesday night, intended or otherwise, got Obama off the hook about the Fast and Furious scandal, so he did not have to respond to Romney’s prying curiosity. That Romney brought it up surprised many in the firearms community.
Just what was the real motivation behind Fast and Furious? Who actually did allow it to go into operation and get out of control? And the most important unanswered question of all, why did the president claim executive privilege to prevent the House Oversight and Government Reform committee from getting its hands on stacks of subpoenaed documents relating to the operation?
Fast and Furious definitely falls within the realm of foreign policy. After all, it is an operation that allowed some 2,000 firearms to enter the illicit market, cross illegally into a neighboring country without that government’s knowledge, and feed a bloody drug war that still rages today.
Perhaps next Monday evening, the nation will get some answers. The public deserves to know prior to the election.