Be Alert– Our Country Needs More Lerts!

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I don’t tend to write about politics, but a recent incident that falls into the area of protecting our nation’s infrastructure prompts me to do so. This story concerns how reporting something out of the ordinary to the proper authorities can help save lives.

Times being what they are, anyone who comes across something that is just not right should report it to the authorities because you never know if something nefarious is going on. Better to be safe than sorry and all that. Large purchases of fertilizer by someone who doesn’t know anything about farming is one example, or perhaps a Russian asking where you store your “nuclear wessels.”

Not Quite Right

Greg Ebert, an employee of Guns Galore LLC in Killeen, Texas, had a strange feeling about a man who came into the store to purchase six pounds of gunpowder, three boxes of shotgun shells, and a magazine for a semi-automatic pistol. The customer acted strangely and asked odd questions about what he was purchasing.

The incident was so out of the ordinary that Greg, a 17 year veteran of the Kileen police force, called it in. Authorities traced the customer, Pfc. Naser Abdo, to his hotel room and discovered explosives materials, a uniform with Fort Hood patches, ammunition, semi-automatic weapons, and a backpack containing a bomb. You remember Fort Hood, right? Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was firing on soldiers there until Sgts. Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd Sr., Fort Hood civilian police officers, took him down.

After questioning, Abdo revealed that he planned an attack on Fort Hood. ABC News reported that Abdo planned to target a restaurant popular with Fort Hood soldiers. You can check out the rest of this story online if you so wish. Good thinking on the part of a store worker helped avert a tragedy.

Suspicious? Yeah, We Know

The reason that I am writing about this is because of a much different outcome when alert gun store employees in Arizona reported similarly strange behavior by smugglers apparently paying straw purchasers to buy guns for them. Instead of investigating and arresting the perpetrators, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) fired up an operation called, “Fast & Furious,” and ordered the gun dealers to continue selling to the suspected smugglers while ATF agents were ordered to stand down while the guns were smuggled into Mexico.

The idea was that once the weapons in Mexico were traced back to the straw purchasers, the entire arms smuggling network could be brought down. But what’s really strange about this whole operation is that many of the reports of violence against Mexican citizens contain evidence that machine guns and grenade launchers are being used — neither of which can be bought and owned legally by your average gun store customer. Rather, it’s believed that some of the Cartels’ high powered weapons and related accessories may have been stolen from U.S. military bases or acquired by the cartels through the huge supply of arms left over from the wars in Central America and Asia.

But back to our story. Border Agent Brian Terry was killed on December 14th, 2010 just north of the Mexican border in Arizona after he confronted a group of bandits believed to be preying on illegal immigrants. Two of the weapons found at the murder site were traced to Arizona gun stores that were ordered to continue selling guns to smugglers that were sold as part of the Fast & Furious operation.

Whistle Blower

Just a two weeks after Terry was murdered, a whistle-blowing agent made contact with the media. In January, the Mexican press begins reporting on the scandal. Over the next two months it becomes and remains front page news throughout the country, and US Sen. Charles Grassly offers his protection to the whistle-blowers. In February 2011, FOX news and the Washington Post break the story, and in March US Rep. Darrel Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, started an investigation of the program, held public hearings over the summer of 2011, and called the operation “felony stupid.

The story so far is that gun store employees in Ariona reported attempted gun buys that didn’t seem right but were told to make the sale so that the guns could be tracked in Mexico, even though it appears that most of cartel’s weapons are military-grade and come from Central America. Two of the guns were found at the Arizona murder scene of a border patrol agent and Congress is looking into the whole program to figure out what is really going on. In fact, CNN reported that of 2,020 guns involved in Fast and Furious, 363 have been recovered in the United States and 227 have been recovered in Mexico. That leaves 1,430 guns unaccounted for. Oops?

Store Owners Must Report Multiple Sales

The icing on the cake is a new ATF rule that will require gun dealers in the Mexican border states of Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico to report all (not just suspect) sales of more than one semi-automatic rifle to the same person within a five-day period. This new rule ostensibly is because of all of the weapons showing up in Mexico, even though in the Fast & Furious case, dealers were ordered to sell the same kinds of guns now covered under this rule.

What especially upsets US gun owners is that while the ATF was telling gun store owners to continue selling to the smugglers, Obama administration officials, including President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were partly blaming US gun stores for the violence in Mexico. President Obama explicitly said so on a visit to Mexico on April 16, 2009.

Many U.S. gun owners think that the actual purpose of Fast & Furious was a political ploy to link US weapons to Mexican cartels in order to build support for stronger gun control on the US side of the border.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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