Quite Suddenly, Guns Kill People

“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” That’s what the NRA and Republicans everywhere have been telling us for more than half a century. Why, it was just a short while ago, in the wake of an act of horrendous gun violence in Arizona, that Tea Party darling Rand Paul used a variation of it and reassured Fox News that: “… weapons don’t kill people. It’s the individual that killed these people.” Paul’s remark was in response to the Tuscon, Ariz., shooting that killed six and injured 14 others, including Gabby Giffords. But now all that seems to have changed. Now the gun is the be all and end all.

Republicans seem to believe that only two guns actually kill people: the two guns found in a patch of desert in Arizona connected to Operation Fast and Furious. All other murders are committed by bad people — not guns, which are good.

Those two guns (with serial numbers) were found near where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered. You may know it as the botched gunwalking operation “Fast and Furious.” Republicans, led by Daryl Issa, have made it clear they believe the presence of those two guns means U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has blood on his hands.

But have you heard any Republicans take public note of any of the following?

There were just seven ATF agents assigned to Operation Fast and Furious. Those agents were also simultaneously working on about a dozen other cases. They were spread pretty thin with more than 800 guns shops in the Phoenix area alone. The area is awash in guns with about 2,000 illegal guns every day flowing over our southern border. ATF agents are out-manned and outgunned.

Plus, Arizona is probably the easiest state in the nation in which to buy a gun. You can carry a concealed gun without a permit. In a bar. Or in the State House. And on January 15, 2010, Jaime Avila was a man who seemed to meet most of the requirements to buy a gun legally in Arizona: He was breathing, and wasn’t in jail or a mental institution.

The Republicans and the NRA love the idea of people having guns. They even insist that people on the Terror Watch List should be able to buy automatic weapons. Because what could possibly go wrong with that? The NRA and Republicans want everyone to have a gun so much, they have also pushed to have convicted felons get their right to own a gun restored, including people who have been convicted of first-degree murder. Because what the odds of that being some kind of problem?

The NRA has been so successful in scaring politicians into compliance with their “a gun in every pot” approach to modern civilization, that ATF agents and Department of Justice attorneys complain that the firearms trafficking laws, as they now stand, are virtually toothless.

“[P]urchasing multiple long guns in Arizona is lawful,” Patrick Cunningham, the U.S. Attorney’s then-criminal chief in Arizona would later write. “Transferring them to another is lawful and even sale or barter of the guns to another is lawful unless the United States can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the firearm is intended to be used to commit a crime.”

So back to Avila, a transient, but someone who appears to be fully qualified to purchase automatic weapons. At the behest of some unsavory middlemen, Avila bought three rifles in Glendale, Ariz.

The next day, an employee of the store faxed a copy of the ATF form 4473 that Avila completed to the ATF office in Phoenix. But that was a Saturday and then came Sunday, and Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. So the agents didn’t receive the fax until Tuesday, and the guns were long gone. There’s no telling where the guns traveled over the next 11 months.

Then, in December of that year, a group Mexican bandits got in a gun fight with an elite U.S. Border Patrol unit looking for human traffickers. Agent Brian Terry was shot and killed. All of the attackers got away except for Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, who was wounded and captured. Two semiautomatic rifles were found at the scene. A trace of the serial numbers found that they were the same rifles Jamie Avila purchased 11 months earlier. They are those guns the ATF agents hadn’t seen. And they could have just as easily been any of the bazillion guns in the vast sea of iron flowing through that region every day. It’s not exactly like there were only two guns available, and the bandits cleverly snatched them up.

Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, the would-be bandit who is now charged with second degree murder in the death of Agent Terry, is a man with a long criminal record. He’s an illegal immigrant who was convicted of felony assault on a police officer in 2006. Back then, he was given a very light sentence. If President Bush’s Justice Department had pushed, Osorio-Arellanes might well have still been in jail on the day Agent Terry was on patrol. But Manuel Osorio-Arellanes was out and about. He’s now set to go on trial for Agent Terry’s murder on November 6.

Again, it comes back to Jaime Avila, the transient who acted as a straw buyer for the middlemen, was also caught and has pleaded guilty to charges of trafficking high-powered rifles. I wonder if the NRA will help him get his gun rights restored when he gets out?

But Republicans and gun lovers don’t think those two men are responsible for the death of agent Terry. They think U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is responsibile.

Senator Scott “Farm Coat” Brown and that famous varmint hunter Mitt Romney have both called for Holder to resign over this, even though Chairman Daryl Issa, the Captain Ahab behind this Republican obsession, testified before the House Rules Committee:

“During the inception and the participation through the death of Brian Terry, we have no evidence nor do we currently have strong suspicion” that Holder knew of the tactics. “We have just the opposite.”

There has been much confusion through all of this, but at least we know this much now with certainty: Guns kill people. And the NRA and Scott Brown and Mitt Romney all push for guns.