U.S. Export to Mexico: Murder Weapons

Monday, April 30, 2012
(photo: Julián Aguilar, Texas Tribune)
Just as American drug users get most of their product ultimately from Mexico, Mexican drug cartels get most of the weapons they use from the United States. The drug war in Mexico, which has killed about 50,000 people since 2006, depends not only on the northward flow of narcotics (worth between $19 and $29 billion annually), but also on the corresponding southward flow of weapons imported illegally by the drug cartels from the United States. It was the weapons trade that motivated the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) to initiate a series of attempts, culminating in the infamous “Fast and Furious” operation, to tag and trace the movement of individual arms. The primary results of that failed operation were the resignations of Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson and U.S. attorney Dennis Burke, who supervised the operation on the ground.
Having failed to monitor individual weapons effectively, ATF last week released for the first time a report that tries to evaluate the proportional share, but not the actual volume, of the arms moving south to drug cartel gunmen. It found that of the 99,691 weapons traced from Mexico between 2007 and 2011, 68,161 (68.3%) were manufactured or imported from the U.S. Potentially more alarming is the trend of the cartels toward heavier firepower: from handguns to rifles with detachable magazines, as the share of rifles rose from 28.2 percent in 2007 to 43.3 percent in 2011, while the shares for handguns and shotguns fell.
The new data has given fresh ammunition to those on both sides of the border who want stricter gun regulations as a way to stanch the flow of guns to Mexico. Since last July, the Obama administration has been enforcing a new rule requiring certain gun dealers along the Mexican border to report multiple sales of assault rifles. The fact that the recent study found 68% of seized guns were from the U.S., versus a 2009 Government Accountability Office conclusion that 87% were from the U.S., may suggest that efforts to root out gun trafficking may be having some impact.
Not surprisingly, given the global prominence of the U.S. weapons industry, criminals in other countries also prefer American-made guns. Thus more than 99 percent of the weapons seized for tracing in Canada were of U.S. origin, with a similar situation in the Caribbean, where U.S. guns accounted for 94% of seizures in The Bahamas, 81.3% in the Dominican Republic, 80.8% in Jamaica, 60% in Barbados  and 43.3% in Trinidad and Tobago.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
ATF Wades Back into a Touchy Issue (by Aaron Mehta and R. Jeffrey Smith, iWatchNews)
Mexico Firearms Trace Data Report (Office of Strategic Information, ATF) (pdf)

Gun Lobby Suffers Rare Setback in Fight to Sell Weapons to Drug Cartels (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov) 


Vince Warde 12 years ago
the figures regarding mexico are bogus - and have been debunked by outlets as diverse as factcheck.org, fox news, cbs news and sen. grassley. here are the details: 1) the figures only reflect the guns mexico submits for tracing. this is consistently less then 1/3 of the total guns seized by mexican authorities. mexico does not submit the other 2/3 + because they obviously are not "us sourced". (the biggest indication is the lack of a serial number - all guns made or sold in the us must have one.) we are now at 30% - a far cry from 70-90%. 2) next, atf counts guns sold directly to mexican and other foreign governments as "us sourced". these guns were never at any time part of the us retail market. where do they come from? many come from direct sales to the mexican government. defecting soldiers and police take their weapons with them. cbs news reports that 1/3 of guns sold to the mexican government are diverted to the cartels before they are even issued. diplomatic cables released by wikileaks confirm that huge numbers of firearms are coming from the central american black market. these are left over weapons from the wars in the 1980s. these include large numbers of us made military grade weapons - that can be bought very cheaply and in bulk. this explains why the average age of "us sourced" firearms is 14 years. in spite of all this evidence, atf and most press outlets make the case that all of these weapons come from the us retail market and none come from the black market. fast and furious proves just how hard - and expensive - it is to buy large numbers of guns in the us and smuggle them to mexico. the only reason the straw buyers were not prevented from buying these guns by the licensed gun dealers is that atf ordered them to sell the guns! dealers refuse sales and report straw buyers all the time. as one atf agent said, "licensed dealers make our cases for us". why in the world would a cartel pay 5-10 times more for guns they have to convert to fully automatic, when they can buy in bulk for less money? what is the real figure for guns from the us market? atf could provide this figure, but they have not done so. the best estimates from the available data is 8-12% of guns recovered by mexican authorities - a far cry from 70-90%! guns from all over find their way into the black market - in addition to used guns, china, iran and north korea all sell large numbers of guns - many of which have been recovered in mexico. the truth is if we eliminated every gun that traced back to the us retail market, other sources would quickly fill the void and the effect would be zero. for more details, see: http://reasonedpolitics.blogspot.com/2011/04/hillary-eric-wikileaks-and-batfe.html

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