2011 in Review:
by Dave Workman
This was the year of ‘Fast and Furious’
What started out as a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol designed by John Moses Browningwhat many gun aficionados consider the finest combat sidearm the world has ever seenturned out to be something entirely different.
For many, 2011 will be remembered as the year Wisconsin got concealed carry.
For others, this was the year that saw Chicago pay a small fortune in legal fees to the Second Amendment Foundation and its attorneys. Still others will recall this year sadly as the one in which Gun Week published this, its final issue, and California lawmakers, acting out of paranoia and political correctness, banned the open carrying of unloaded firearms in public.
But for anyone in the gun rights movement who has paid attention to television, newspaper and Internet reports, this was the year of Operation Fast and Furious. It was, and remains as new facts surface, a political scandal of monumental proportions; a gun trafficking sting operation started under the Obama administration that ended with the murder of a Border Patrol agent in Arizona, and ignited what now appears to be a massive cover-up by the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder.
Not a month has gone by when there hasn’t been something written about Fast and Furious; some new detail that led to Congressional hearings, two Capitol Hill investigations, a third investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and multiple probes by on-line journalists, CBS News, Fox News, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Times, Gun Week and other publications.
The stones were originally kicked over by independent blogger Mike Vanderboegh, who writes a column called Sipsey Street Irregulars, and David Codrea, national gun rights examiner for Examiner.com. Gun Week began its own probe that resulted in a series of reports starting in January and continuing to this, the final edition of Gun Week, which will be transformed next month into the new GunMag.com.
Operation Fast and Furious has become the Obama administration’s Watergate, along with the Solyndra scandal. The president who was elected promising “hope and change” appears to be struggling into an election year as gunowners “hope” they will “change” the White House occupant come November 2012.
The year began with a “Stronger outlook for gun rights” as our Jan. 1 issue headlined. Fresh from the SAF victory in McDonald v. City of Chicago, gun rights activists were buoyed by the promise of a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a farewell to four years under anti-gun Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
There was hope in the case of New Jersey gun law victim Brian Aitken, who ran afoul of the Garden State’s gun laws and found himself imprisoned for something that was not a crime in other states. Freed by Gov. Chris Christie in late December, activists rallied to support Aitken and his quest for justice.
While the year started off with hope, it faded quickly under a cloud of controversy with the Jan. 8 attempted murder of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords at a Tucson shopping mall event. She was critically wounded and six others were killed, including Federal Judge John Roll and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green.
Authorities arrested alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner, who was tackled to the ground and held by several people including an armed citizen named Joe Zamudio.
The shooting allowed gun prohibitionists to coin a new phrase: “Assault magazines.” While it did not gain as much traction in the general press as the term “assault weapon,” it is still being repeatedly used by anti-gunners.
Following the shooting, Gun Week Executive Editor Joseph Tartaro noted that anti-gun lawmakers revived a proposal to ban large-capacity magazines, while the media ignored calls for improved funding for mental health initiatives. It was subsequently reported in these pages that half of the states were not complying with the National Instant Check System on submitting mental health information on people who could not legally own a firearm.
Perennial anti-gun Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation to target gun shows and ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. He was joined in the effort by anti-gun Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY). There was no evidence that Loughner had ever visited a gun show.
A California court ruled in January that the state’s prohibition against on-line handgun ammunition sales is unconstitutional, and issued a permanent restraining order against its enforcement.
The Fast and Furious investigation broke wide open with the announcement of 34 arrests in connection with border region run trafficking. The ATF at the time said it had been assisted in the investigations by agents with the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Phoenix, AZ, Police Department. Since the Fast and Furious operation turned into a scandal, those agencies have distanced themselves from the investigation.
At the time the ATF announced that it was concerned that proposed budget cuts would imperil their investigation of border state gun running.
Veteran NRA lobbyist James Baker came back to that organization after several years to work as a Capitol Hill lobbyist again.
Brady Bullying Bust
Gun Week was first to report that Starbucks Coffee had shown a fourth quarter profit for 2010 and directly linked that to an effort started early in that year by the Brady Campaign and state-level anti-gun groups to boycott the company. Why? Because Starbucks catered to armed citizens, including those who openly carry sidearms.
The effort was a dismal flop, and the gun prohibitionist lobby quickly turned its attention, and that of the public, away from the Starbucks story.
A group in northeast Washington state raised a stink when it organized a coyote derby to cut down on the predator population in an effort to help the region’s whitetail deer herd. One organizer said the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is “the biggest problem we have.”
Early this year, Fortune magazine said the national debate on gun control had fizzled because gun control had become a non-starter issue in Congress. Even high-ranking Democrats conceded that the gun control effort had been shelved in an attempt to regain rural voters.
Grassley launched his probe of Fast and Furious initially as an investigation of the umbrella effort known as “Project Gunrunner.” He sent a letter to Holder to “come clean” on the operation early in the year, as Codrea and Vanderboegh continued to unearth new facts and allegations.
At the same time, ATF announced that its study on shotguns would lead to a ban on importation of many models considered non-sporting related. Perhaps not coincidentally, anti-gun Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called on the Obama administration to tighten up on firearms importing regulations.
Early in the year, Stratfor.org carefully demolished the “90% myth” that Feinstein and others had promulgated over the past two years to insist most of the crime guns recovered in Mexico originated here.
The gun rights battle literally was taken to the streets early in the year and the effort continued well into the spring when Mayors Against Illegal Guns launched a rolling billboard campaign exploiting the number of firearms-related fatalities, alleging that 34 Americans die each day due to firearms use.
Quickly responding were the Second Amendment Foundation and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms with a joint educational effort and its own rolling billboard. This one noted that, according to various researches, more than 2,100 lives are saved every day because Americans can use firearms to deter crime and violence.
Just as aggressive in the battle to defend the Second Amendment was Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer when he essentially declared war on wolves in his state. The big predators have decimated elk herds in some regions, which translates to a huge impact on big game hunting. Montana is a popular destination state for hunters who spend millions of dollars on hunting and related activities, including professional guide services, hotels and motels, restaurants and gas stations.
In neighboring Wyoming, lawmakers approved legislation that allows for carrying firearms concealed without a permit.
The wolf controversy would heat up throughout the year in Montana, Idaho and Washington. Congress passed legislation that removed federal protection of wolves in Montana, Idaho and the eastern third section of Washington.
Connected to the Fast and Furious controversy was a proposal, now enacted, by the ATF to require federal firearms retailers in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California to report multiple sales of certain long guns. The Brady Campaign quickly jumped on board in favor of the proposal.
The attention toward gun trafficking ramped up with the February murder of ICE agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico. He was on assignment there, was not armed and was reportedly many miles away from his headquarters when the shooting occurred.
As the spring unfolded, Grassley called for an independent probe of the ATF, and both CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb and NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre began calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to step down.
While SAF and the NRA seemed to go their own ways over the past couple of years on legal actions, the most recent case in which they were jointly involvedthe lawsuit that overturned the illegal ban on handguns in Seattle, WA, park facilitieswent to the State Court of Appeals.
Pacific Northwest gun rights activists were not the only ones paying attention to this case. Across the country, activists paid attention as did gun control proponents for one reason. Washington’s state preemption law was being challenged, and that statute, adopted in 1983 and reinforced in 1985 and again in 1994, has served as a model for similar laws in several other states. If it were to be weakened or go down on a city challenge, it could start a flood of similar actions threatening other states’ preemption laws.
Ultimately, the appeals court ruled in early November that the city was in violation of the state statute, upholding the SAF/NRA lawsuitwhich was joined by the CCRKBA, Washington Arms Collectors and five individual citizensadding one more notch in the battle to reverse gun control laws.
The Seattle lawsuit was not the only gun rights court victory. The City of Chicago lost another round in its efforts to dance around the McDonald ruling when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Windy City in the lawsuit against the city’s handgun control ordinance. The court also separately ruled that the city had to reimburse SAF for legal fees in the McDonald case.
Also an Oregon appeals court ruled against that state’s universities and colleges in their attempt to prevent law-abiding citizens from carrying firearms on college campuses.
On the other end of the spectrum, a Florida judge blocked enforcement of that state’s new “doctors and guns” law that had been backed by the NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida. US District Judge Marcia Cooke ruled that the law violated the First Amendment rights of physicians.
Meanwhile, Chicago kept “re-tooling” its gun ordinance in an attempt to just barely comply with its requirements under McDonald.
While that was going on, the NRA held its annual convention in Pittsburgh, PA, about the same time SAF filed another lawsuit, this time against New York City and Mayor Michael Bloomberg over excessive gun permit fees.
And sticking to what has turned out to be a pattern, the House Oversight Committee under Congressman Darryl Issa (R-CA) issued subpoenas for more documents in its Fast and Furious investigation.
Washington State lawmakers passed legislation allowing the use of suppressors by private citizens and the police. It was a major win for Washingtonians who previously could own suppressors, and even mount them on firearms. They just could not legally use those guns while suppressors were attached.
Self-Defense v. Animals
While so much happened this past year, it would not have been complete without major man-versus-animals self-defense actions, several in the Pacific Northwest and a significant one in Indiana.
Retired Cincinnati, OH, Police Lt. Harry Thomas, now an Indiana resident, landed in court last year for firing a gun to discourage the vicious dog that was biting his leg at the time. During his court trial this past spring, Thomas successfully fought a citation by police in the town of Carmel in a case that got national attention. Even the Law Enforcement Alliance of America took an interest in the case.
Thomas, a former member of the NRA board of directors, fired one round from a .45-caliber revolver into the ground when one of two aggressive dogs owned by a neighbor attacked him in October 2010. The case was continued several times and finally was heard March 29.
A Kirkland, WA, man shot and seriously wounded one of three aggressive pit bulls that had attacked his own dog in a city park.
On Mother’s Day, a northern Idaho man fatally shot one of three grizzly bears that entered his property in Boundary County while his children were outside playing. He was subsequently charged with violating the Endangered Species Act, but public backlash caused the federal prosecutor in that case to back off and simply fine the shooter, Jeremy Hill.
In mid-summer, residents in Northeast Washington managed to wipe out a marauding pack of wild dogs, one of which may have been a wolf hybrid. The dogs were blamed for killing more than 100 pets and livestock in Stevens County. One of the critters was shot by a turkey hunter during the spring season when he was confronted by the aggressive canine.
In September, again in Idaho, a bowhunter named Rene Anderson of the small town of Headquarters shot and killed a wolf that advanced on her during a later afternoon elk hunt near her home. Anderson had a state wolf tag, but the incident brought howls from the wolf advocates because it was publicized as a self-defense shooting. Aggressiveness on the part of a wolf is not the picture that wolf repopulation advocates want in front of the public.
Wolves in Montana and Idaho, and parts of Utah, Oregon and eastern Washington were removed from the protection of the endangered species list by a vote of Congress, and both Idaho and Montana currently have wolf hunting seasons in progress. Wolves remain protected in Washington by a state law.
Back in Seattle in early November, a Seattle man shot and killed an attacking pit bull that had mauled his own boxer and was threatening his wife. A Seattle Police spokesman told Gun Week that the homeowners tried everything to break up the dog attack, including hitting the animal with rocks. Finally, when the pit bull threatened the wife, the husband retrieved a handgun from his home and fired one round, killing the animal.
Rhetoric has been ramping up throughout the year over Operation Fast and Furious, and by mid-year, Grassley was telling Holder that his department was simply not credible in explaining how the ATF allowed thousands of guns to flow across the border into the hands of Mexican drug thugs.
Holder’s later appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early November left much to be desired. When Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) gave him an opportunity to apologize to the family of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, he reeled back from the microphone and only offered his regrets that Terry had been killed. He also admitted that he had not spoken to the Terry family.
Grassley and Issa issued a Joint Staff Report on the bungled Fast and Furious operation, and it pulled no punches. The release was timed just hours before Issa convened the first of several hearings before his House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
It was also in late spring that Mexico began talking about a lawsuit against US firearms manufacturers over the number of guns showing up south of the border.
As if Holder didn’t have enough trouble, SAF sued him in a challenge to US gun laws that prevent residents from the District of Columbia from purchasing firearms across the Potomac River in Virginia. SAF also sued the State of Illinois over its ban on carrying a defensive firearm for personal protection.
One incident having nothing to do with Fast and Furious that got a laugh out of everyone but Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire was the appearance of several known outlaw bikers at a bill-signing ceremony in Olympia. The bill, now a law, prevents Washington police from profilingyou guessed itoutlaw bikers. One of the people in the room reportedly had killed a Portland, OR, police officer years ago in an incident that involved the cop participating in an illegal activity at the time.
This was also the year that the firearms community lost several good people. Writer and powder specialist Marty Liggins passed away May 15 following a battle with cancer. Liggins had written for Gun Week and Women & Guns along with other publications during his career, and was one of the founders of the Fifty Caliber Shooting Society.
Gun Digest editor Dan Shideler suddenly died at age 50 at his home in Muncie, IN.
Staunch gun rights advocate Sen. James McClure, who co-authored the McClure-Volkmer Firearms Owners Protection Act, passed away at his home in Garden City, ID, back in February. Just two months later, his partner in that effort, former Rep. Harold Volkmer (D-MO), also died, at his home in Hannibal, MO.
Both McClure and Volkmer had long histories of defending gun rights, and both equally understood how to get things done on Capitol Hill.
Gun rights activist/instructor and novelist Joel Rosenberg passed away in Minnesota on June 2, leaving his wife and daughters, and many devoted followers of his work in the gun rights arena.
Survival expert and knife designer Ron Hood died at his home in Coeur d’Alene, ID, on June 21. He and his wife created a popular survival website and Survival Quarterly.
One loss of a different sort that wasn’t so tough was the departure of devoted anti-gun Congressman Anthony Weiner, the seven-term Democrat from New York who had been Sen. Charles Schumer’s protégé and a possible candidate for New York mayor. Weiner was caught in a scandal involving photos of himself sent to a woman via Twitter, and then trying to lie about it.
Outrage in Ohio
Although gunowners were furious over the continuing revelations in Operation Fast and Furious, their rage was unleashed when a profanity-laced videotaken from the dash camera of a police patrol carsurfaced in mid-summer showing a Canton, OH, officer berating and threatening an armed citizen during a late-night contact.
Uncovered by Ohioans for Concealed Carry, the video crossed cyberspace at warp speed, creating a fury coast to coast. The video showed an officer identified as Daniel Harless telling citizen William Bartlett that he did not immediately declare, as required by state law, that he was armed when Harless approached him. The problem was that Harless repeatedly told Bartlett to remain silent.
At one point, Harless told Bartlett, “As soon as I saw your gun, I should have taken two steps back, pulled my Glock 40 and just put ten bullets in your ass and let you drop. And I wouldn’t have lost any sleep, do you understand me?”
A second video taken months earlier, showed Harless on another traffic stop where a gun was found inside a vehicle, and he similarly threatened to shoot the occupant of that vehicle. The video was so bad that the King County, WA, Sheriff’s Department circulated it to all of their commissioned deputies, as an example of what not to do.
As Gun Week reported, the first of several Fast and Furious hearings before Issa’s House committee included testimony from Carlos Canino, a highly-respected ATF agent with a reputation for candor. He called the operation a “perfect storm of idiocy” and got support for that analysis from others who testified.
That hearing and others that followed have raised the potential that at some point, the ATF may find itself the subject of a complete reorganization, or perhaps be incorporated into a different law enforcement agency. Still, disappointment lingers in the firearms community that so far, none of the people who were in charge of this operation have been fired or even disciplined, except perhaps the whistleblowers.
It was during that hearing that William Newell, former special agent in charge in Phoenix at the time Fast and Furious was operating, admitted to the panel that he had shared e-mail regarding the operation with a member of the National Security team in the White House. That bombshell rocked the hearing, and opened the investigation even wider.
As the year draws to a close, there are increasing calls from members of Congress for Holder to resign.
Meanwhile, an alert Texas gun dealer is probably responsible for helping foil a plot to do a copycat Fort Hood shooting. The alleged plot involved an AWOL soldier who bought a firearm from Guns Galore in Killeen, TX, not far from the Army base.
Across the Atlantic, Norway was the scene of a mass shooting at an island retreat in July. The massacre was perpetrated by self-confessed gunman Anders Behring Breivik. He set off a bomb on the mainland and then went to the island of Utoya, killing more than 70 people before it was over.
Back in this country, another political storm boiled up when firearms retailers across the map began receiving copies of a memo from the FBI asking surplus and firearms dealers to observe, identify and keep a record of people purchasing certain items that include firearms accessories.
SAF’s on-going efforts to win back firearms freedoms “one lawsuit at a time” got a major boost when Glock Inc., made a significant financial contribution. The Austrian company is a major force in this country’s firearms industry, and SAF’s Alan Gottlieb credited Glock Vice President Josh Dorsey and General Counsel Carlos Guevara with making the contribution possible.
But even with that announcement, public attention simply could not get far away from Fast and Furious as the scandal continued to unfold into the fall. Cornyn jumped into the fray with both feet, demanding to know why three top officials involved in the operation were given new jobs and assignments, rather than pink slips. He would later challenge Holder during a November hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Justice Department’s lack of oversight and evasiveness about the gun-running sting.
The case took a bizarre turn when it was revealed that the ATF and US Attorney’s office in Phoenix had apparently allowed a man identified as Jean Baptiste Kingery to walk despite his alleged involvement in trafficking hand grenades to Mexican drug cartels. Kingery was arrested at his home in Mazatlan where authorities found components for hundreds of grenades.
And Fox News reported that the FBI had apparently covered up the existence of a third gun at the crime scene where Border Patrol Agent Terry was slain, allegedly to protect the identity of a highly-placed informant inside the drug cartels.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to block wolf hunting seasons in Idaho and Montana, but a new court action filed in November sought to stop both hunts.
The New Hampshire legislature overrode Democrat Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a new law that expands the self-defense rights of citizens in that state.
The annual Gun Rights Policy Conference was held in “the belly of the beast” in Chicago, partly to celebrate the SAF victory in McDonald and partly to bring the conference to the last state in the nation where gun rights do not include any form of carry of defensive firearms.
This year’s conference looked at coming legislative and congressional battles, and the United Nations’ continuing effort to adopt some kind of international gun control initiative. Neither Mayor Rahm Emanuel nor former Mayor Richard Daley took advantage of invitations to attend.
While that was going on, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation banning the open carry of unloaded firearms in public, a move that ignited new legal challenges to that state’s discretionary method of issuing concealed carry permits.
The ATF rekindled its effort to prevent users of medical marijuana from owning or possessing firearms. The move started a raging Internet debate, without much real hope of actually changing the federal statute.
Late in the year, the Gallup poll showed support for a handgun ban dropping to an all-time low, and also showed less support for a ban on so-called “assault weapons.”
Bad News, Good News
And finally, the year closes with a farewell to Gun Week, where this reporter’s byline has proudly appeared for the past 11 years. As a publication, Gun Week had few if any rivals in terms of timeliness, readability, and an understanding of the firearms issues that are all-too-lacking in the mainstream press.
Yes, Gun Week has always been a special-interest publication, but it has also been a newspaper, detailing the good and the bad, the amusing and the heartbreaking, and in its final year, the Fast and Furious. When Executive Editor Joe Tartaro announced in the Nov. 1 edition that the presses would soon stop turning for this grand old news organ after 45 years, it was not without considerable regret and no small amount of sadness for the Gun Week staff.
But all is not bad news, as Tartaro revealed. A brand new monthly publication will be born next month. TheGunMag.com makes its debut in January 2012, perhaps just in time to bring more heartburn to gun prohibitionists as legislative sessions kick into action across the states, and the presidential and congressional campaigns gather momentum for the 11-month run to election day.
This reporter will be along for that ride, and so will you readers. Meanwhile, have a wonderful holiday season and make one New Year’s resolution that sticks: Stay around for the new TheGunMag.com, and be there with us through the election cycle and for many years to come.
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