Counting Mexican Guns


Obama says 90% of recovered crime guns in Mexico come from the States. We call bull$#!%.

Dennis E. Florianby Dennis E. Florian

[Note: Yes, this is an “American thing” but, just as the Yanks got all worried that the LGR would encourage gun grabbers south of the border to float similar ballons down there (it did), so should we Canadians keep an eye on underhanded tactics in the States that may one day work their way up here.  It happens a lot more than you might think. -D]

There’s no arguing that a buttload of handguns, rifles and other guns are purchased in the U.S. and end up in the hands of Mexican criminals each year. It’s not all that hard to buy them legally in Texas or other border states and to smuggle them south — just like it’s not all that hard to smuggle thousands of tons of dope north across the same border every year.

But is it true, as Obama keeps chirping, that “more than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States?” Not God damned likely; even his own government’s statistics don’t actually support that line of bull.The often-yowled 90% figure represents only the percentage of crime guns that have been submitted by Mexican officials and traced by U.S. officials. The fact is that there is no hard data on the total number of guns actually “recovered in Mexico,” (at least none that I’ve ever been able to find; and believe me, I’ve looked) but U.S. and Mexican officials both admit that Mexico recovers a hell of a lot more guns than it ever hands over to the Yanks for tracing. Therefore, simple math proves that the percentage of guns “recovered” that are traced to American sources can’t help but be less than 90 percent; there’s just no way around it. So where do the others come from? American officials can’t say and, by all indications, Mexican officials won’t say.

Fox News has put the percentage of guns that have been traced to U.S. sources at only 17 percent, but even that number is based on a mistaken assumption that throws its figure way off (sorry Fox, but you stepped on your trouser trout with that one). We can’t offer a precise calculation because we don’t know of any hard data on the total number of guns Mexican officials have recovered. But if a rough figure from Mexico’s attorney general is anything to go by — and no, we’re not saying that it is — then the actual percentage of all Mexican crime guns that have been traced to U.S. sources could very well be as much as double what Fox reported.

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For over two years now, efforts by the United States and Mexico to stop the illegal transfer of guns and drugs along their shared border have been on the front burner. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano traveled to Mexico back in ’09 to hook up with their Mexican counterparts and have a big ol’ chinwag about what could be done. And then President Barack Obama traveled down south to continue the dog and pony show between the two nations.

During a joint press conference with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico in April ’09, Obama coughed up this now-famous hariball about the shitstorm of violence by murderous Mexican drug gangs:

A demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business. This war is being waged with guns purchased not here, but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border.

Obama would have been correct to say that 90 percent of the guns submitted for tracing by Mexican authorities were then traced to the U.S. The percentage of all recovered guns that came from the U.S. is unknown.

The 90% Nonsense

But Good King Barack Hopeychange isn’t the first to make this mistaken claim outright lie; not even close. During an interview on CBS’ Early Show on 26 March 2009, Secretary of State (and hardcore Tammy Wynette fan) Hillary Clinton belched: “We have to recognize and accept that the demand for drugs from the United States drives them north, and the guns that are used by the drug cartels against the police and the military, 90 percent of them come from America.”

The 90 percent myth was similarly cited by chronic gun-grabbers Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) during a St. Paddy’s Day congressional hearing on the subject. Durbin said “According to ATF, more than 90 percent of the guns seized after raids or shootings in Mexico have been traced right here to the United States of America.” Feinstein clamoured onto the bandwagon, yelping “It is unacceptable to have 90 percent of the guns that are picked up in Mexico used to shoot judges, police officers, mayors, kidnap innocent people and do terrible things come from the United States, and I think we must put a stop to that.”

And it’s been obediently repeated, ad nauseum, by a phalanx of the usual-suspect news outlets, including (but sure as hell not limited to) the Christian Science Monitor, the New York (behind the) Times, The Peacock and the Chicago Tribune, that 90 percent of Mexico’s recovered guns come from the States.

And Mexican authorities have regurgitated the same damn FUD: On CBS’ Face the Nation on 4/12/09, Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan said: “Ninety percent of all weapons we are seizing in Mexico, Bob, are coming from across the United States.”

Most who have used the 90% number insist that it came from the ATF; others say it came from the Mexican government. But they’re both wrong.

Without A Trace

In a joint statement presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crimes and Drugs, ATF Assistant Director for Field Operations William Hoover and Anthony Placebo Placido, assistant administrator of intelligence with the DEA, clarified that yeah, the 90 percent figure is true … if you’re only looking at the guns that were submitted and could be traced:

Firearms are routinely being transported from the U.S. into Mexico in violation of both U.S. and Mexican law. In fact, according to ATF’s National Tracing Center, 90 percent of the weapons that could be traced were determined to have originated from various sources within the U.S.

– Hoover and Placido, March 17, 2009

And Mexico recovers a lot more guns than it submits to the U.S. In December 2008, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora put the number of recovered crime weapons in the country over the past two years at nearly 29,000, according to USA Today. And the figures given by the ATF make it pretty damned clear that the agency doesn’t trace more than a sliver of those.

According to the ATF, Mexico handed over 7,743 firearms for tracing in the 2008 fiscal year (ended Oct. 1) and 3,312 guns in fiscal 2007. That adds up to a fraction of the two-year total given by the Mexican attorney general. While he might have been referring to a slightly different 24-month period, that can’t account for more than a small part of the discrepancy. The number is growing, and in 2009, Mexico submitted more than 7,500 guns for tracing, according to ATF. But even if all those guns are added in, the total submitted for tracing since the start of fiscal 2007 doesn’t come close to the 29,000 figure that Mexico says it has recovered.

The 17% Screwup

Fox News didn’t get it right, either.  According to a report titled “The Myth of 90 Percent,” only “17 percent of guns found at Mexican crime scenes have been traced to the U.S.” But the 17% figure is wrong, too. The reporters made some assumptions (things gauranteed to make an ASS out of yoU and Umption) about how many guns had actually been traced to U.S. sources.

Fox reporters William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott note, quite correctly, that Mexico doesn’t hand over all the guns it recovers to the U.S. for tracing. Furthermore, Fox News reported, this is “because it is obvious from their markings that they do not come from the U.S.” And it quoted a law enforcement official as to why:

“Not every weapon seized in Mexico has a serial number on it that would make it traceable, and the U.S. effort to trace weapons really only extends to weapons that have been in the U.S. market,” Matt Allen, special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told FOX News.

If that’s true, then the guns given to ATF for tracing constitute a steaming crock of self-serving bullshit badly biased sample of all crime guns seized in Mexico. But other ATF officials don’t confirm that. What an ATF spokesperson would say is that the agency could trace more than 90 percent of all the guns submitted by Mexico to the U.S. – they either originated in the States or were imported there before heading south.

However that may be, the Fox figure of 17 percent is based on a misreading (not such a hard thing to do) of some seriously confusing House subcommittee testimony by an ATF official named William Newell (who has apparently figured out since then that somebody is getting ready to toss him under the bus). The Fox reporters came up with a figure of 5,114 guns traced to U.S. sources in fiscal 2007 and 2008. That figures to 17.6 percent of the 29,000 figure for guns seized in Mexico, as given by the country’s attorney general.

The problem is that the 5,114 figure is that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, either. What Newell actually said (in testimony that he now says “lacked completeness;” whatever sort of ass-coverage that’s supposed to be) is that the number of guns submitted to the ATF in those two years was 11,055: “3,312 in FY 2007 [and] 7,743 in FY 2008.” Newell also testified, like a lot of other ATF officials, that 90 percent of the guns traced were determined to have come from the U.S. How Fox ended up with the 5,114 number, I’m really not quite sure, but it looks as if the mistake the Fox News reporters made was to focus on some numbers given by Newell and Hoover in separate testimony about numbers of guns traced to specific states. At least, that’s as good a guess as I’ve been able to figure.

One Damn Elusive Number

Given the utter lack of solid, reliable numbers from Mexico, there’s just no way to calculate an exact figure for what portion of crime guns have or haven’t been traced back to the U.S. in one way or another.  But, based on the best evidence that there is to find so far, one can only conclude that the 90% claim made by Obama and others in his administration lacks a basis in solid fact is nothing but a self-serving crock of shit. But we also have to conclude that the number isn’t what Fox News has reported, either, based on its reporters’ mistaken interpretation of ATF testimony.

Whether the number is 90 percent, or 17 percent, or something else, there’s no dispute that plenty of guns are being illegalIy transported into Mexico by way of the United States each year.  Perhaps a better question is “how many of them are getting sent there by the ATF, and under whose orders?”

Think about it.

Check this stuff out, while you’re at it:

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