Fast And Spurious: Katie Pavlich's ATF Conspiracy

Last week we broke down the variety of falsehoods and misrepresentations Townhall news editor Katie Pavlich employs in her new book, Fast and Furious: Barack Obama's Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover-up. But more insidious than her sloppy adherence to the facts is the conspiracy theory she weaves as the heart of the book.

It is universally acknowledged that the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious was a debacle that never should have been allowed to happen. No one questions that it is a complete disaster that federal agents knowingly allowed guns to be trafficked across the border to Mexico, resulting in tragic consequences including deaths on both sides of the border.

Heads should roll in response; several individuals involved in the case have resigned or been reassigned and Attorney General Eric Holder has said further personnel changes could come in the wake of the inspector general's report.

But Pavlich is unsatisfied with simply investigating who approved of this flawed operation; instead she succumbs to the paranoid conspiracy theory from the National Rifle Association that the operation was originally conceived not as an attempt to build a case to bring down a Mexican drug cartel, but rather as part of a sinister plot to push a gun control agenda.

These claims may pass muster before an NRA audience, but they are not credible for most. Here's Bill O'Reilly - not someone inclined to think well of the administration - interviewing Pavlich about what he calls her “conspiracy thing.” Even he's not buying it:

In her book, Pavlich spends page after page detailing the past support for gun control by President Obama and the leaders of his administration. She also repeatedly highlights how the administration has noted with alarm gunrunning into Mexico, as well as the ATF's solution, a long gun reporting rule published in December 2010. That rule requires licensed gun dealers to report to the ATF when a person purchases multiple long guns, such as AK-47 variants, within a week. A similar reporting rule has been in place for handguns since 1968. This rule - which prevents no one from purchasing firearms - is often portrayed by the gun lobby as evidence of the administration's anti-Second Amendment bent.

In the book's final chapter, titled “Connecting the Dots,” she says that while some conclude that the administration has simply “tried to capitalize on a disaster” by issuing that rule, “there is a more insidious explanation too.” She explains:

[T]hat is that Operation Fast and Furious was built to fail, from a straight law enforcement point of view, and built to succeed in promoting gun control. Certainly that has been its net effect, helping to justify the administration's new regulations on long guns.


What was the purpose of Fast and Furious? Was it really to “take down a major cartel”? If so, it certainly failed, and it is hard to see how it could have succeeded. ... Was Fast and Furious designed to help build a case for new gun control measures that could not otherwise pass Congress? Did the Obama administration and its political appointees put their zeal for their own political agenda ahead of public safety? The evidence suggests the answer is yes. [Page 149]

It's difficult to engage with a theory this crazy, but it's worth pointing out that the “evidence” Pavlich cites is is entirely circumstantial. It consists of the facts that Obama and his political appointees have backed gun control legislation in the past, and that the operation occurred. The proof that top political appointees were aware of the tactics used has not emerged. And the policy result - the long gun reporting requirement - certainly doesn't match the rhetoric employed.

Moreover, if the White House were behind the push for the long gun requirement, they seem unaware of it: as TPM Media's Ryan J. Reilly reported in October 2011, documents indicate that “ATF didn't consult with the White House” before publishing their request for the rule.

If the goal of the plot was a more rigorous gun control measure than the reporting rule, that theory seems flawed as well. How was an increase in the number of guns in Mexico and a commensurate increase in violence there supposed to result in passage of, say, the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban? The logic of the theory requires a huge and very risky bet by the top members of the administration for a small chance of a small potential gain. With no real evidence to support it, this remains, as O'Reilly notes, merely a “conspiracy thing.”