Wednesday, December 15, 2010

NRA campaign dough begets loose gun laws; will it keep open U.S. gun pipeline to Mexico?

The Washington Post has produced a multimedia, multi-part investigation, "The Hidden Life of Guns." The series began in October and continues today. The most recent installment, by Sari Horwitz and James V. Grimaldi, tracks the influence that the National Rifle Association has had on political elections and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "With annual revenue of about $250 million, the group has for four decades been the strongest force shaping the nation's gun laws. ... The gun lobby has consistently outmaneuvered and hemmed in ATF, using political muscle to intimidate lawmakers and erect barriers to tougher gun laws. ... The source of the NRA's power is its focus on one issue and its ability to get pro-gun candidates elected."

In the past two decades, the NRA has spent more than $100 million on lobbying and campaign support, while the ATF has been without a permanent director since 2006. The Obama administration nominated a gun-control advocate for the job, but the nomination has little hope of passing. The NRA "is clearly the most powerful lobby in the United States," said William Vizzard, a former ATF agent who is now a criminal-justice professor in California. "The NRA has shaped gun policy and shaped the ATF."

"Despite the worst recession in a generation, we have thrived," National Shooting Sports Foundation President Steven Sanetti said at the event's state-of-the-industry dinner. The NRA does not trust the Obama administration and gun control advocates are disappointed with Obama's lack of action. "President Obama's first-year record on gun violence prevention has been an abject failure," said the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Interactive maps showing where and how the NRA spent its money and video interviews with are online. One map shows how and where the spent $6.7 million on the most recent election. (Read more)

David S. Fallis reports on how gun dealers acquire licenses to sell guns after the ATF has closed them down. The dealers often re-open through through relatives, employees, or associates who are willing to get a license for the dealer or they just incorporate as a new business. Both methods are legal. "This is the way Congress wrote the law," said James Zammillo, who was with ATF for four decades and served as deputy assistant director of industry operations before retiring this year. "The spirit of the law is that unless the applicant is prohibited, you have to issue a license. There is no discretion." ATF has 600 inspectors to inspect 60,000 gun dealers, an average of once every eight years. the agency revokes about 110 licenses a year, but the retailer is allowed to stay in business while the revocation plays out, writes Fallis. (Read more)

Today's installment names the top 12 U.S. dealers of guns traced to Mexican crime in the past two years. Eight of the top 12 dealers are in Texas, three are in Arizona, and one is in California. Mexican drug dealers come into the U.S. to buy guns because the Mexican government restricts gun ownership. Grimaldi and Fallis report that high-powered assault weapons purchased in the U.S. are contributing to the savage violence in Mexico. Guns from the U.S. "have been feeding the violence and overwhelming firepower being unleashed by drug traffickers," said Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador in Washington. "We need to defang drug trafficking organizations of these high-caliber and semiautomatic and automatic weapons, and we need to do it now." (Read more)
(Complete list of series)

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