American guns in Mexico: The 90 percent myth

As violence in Mexico continues to erupt day after day, Mexican President Felipe Calderon increases calls for the United States to do something about American’s demand for narcotics and the easy access to guns that he claims filters south of the border.  His claim about the guns has been picked up by anti-gun politicians with a undermine the Second Amendment.  Unfortunately, it’s based on a steaming pile of bull.

Don’t want to believe me?  Well, global intelligence site Stratfor took a look at the numbers and found something rather interesting:

As we discussed in a previous analysis, the 90 percent number was derived from a June 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress on U.S. efforts to combat arms trafficking to Mexico (see external link).

According to the GAO report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican authorities in 2008. Of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

This means that the 87 percent figure relates to the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by Mexican authorities or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. In fact, the 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in Mexico in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing. This means that almost 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexico in 2008 were not traced back to the United States.

The remaining 22,800 firearms seized by Mexican authorities in 2008 were not traced for a variety of reasons. In addition to factors such as bureaucratic barriers and negligence, many of the weapons seized by Mexican authorities either do not bear serial numbers or have had their serial numbers altered or obliterated. It is also important to understand that the Mexican authorities simply don’t bother to submit some classes of weapons to the ATF for tracing. Such weapons include firearms they identify as coming from their own military or police forces, or guns that they can trace back themselves as being sold through the Mexican Defense Department’s Arms and Ammunition Marketing Division (UCAM). Likewise, they do not ask ATF to trace military ordnance from third countries like the South Korean fragmentation grenades commonly used in cartel attacks.

That 90% number looks a little shaky now, doesn’t it?

It’s important to note, yet again, that the straw purchases that are alleged to be how these guns get bought prior to shipping south are already illegal.  Hence the public response to Operation Gunrunner.

A small fraction has been traced to the United States, not any 90%.

Mexico has a lot of problems.  I mean a lot.  However, Calderon’s rhetoric is nothing more than an attempt to deflect blame from his broken government to a prosperous neighbor to the north that many Mexicans blame for their ills anyways.  That’s not to say that no guns come from the United States, but instead only a small fraction are shown to have been.  Far fewer than originally claimed.

Of course, don’t let facts get in the way of a good sound bite.

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