Anti-Gun Report: Fewer Mexican Guns Traced to U.S.

Once again anti-gun legislators are attempting to misrepresent firearm tracing data, though this time, with declining numbers and a public wary of political posturing, it may just backfire on them.

A report (“Halting US Firearms Trafficking to Mexico“) released Monday by a trio of anti-gun senators including Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) appears to show the number of firearms that have been recovered in Mexico and traced to the United States as actually declining in recent years from an unsubstantiated 90 percent to, now, an unsubstantiated 70 percent.

It is important to note that these percentages do not reflect the total number of firearms recovered.  In fact, in a letter to Sen. Feinstein discussing this very report, ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson admitted, “There are no United States Government sources that maintain any record of the total number of criminal firearms seized in Mexico.”

So to be clear, the 70 percent claim relates only to the very small number of traced firearms – not the total number of firearms recovered.  And it’s no surprise that so many come from the United States. We have a very good system for tracing firearms through serial numbers and purchase records (some countries don’t trace them at all). Mexico recognizes this fact and submits for tracing only those firearms that it believes would likely prove trace positive.

Earlier this year a report by the independent research group STRATFOR noted that less than 12 percent of the total number of guns seized in Mexico during 2008 had been verified as coming from the United States. STRATFOR cited a June 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report noting:

-- 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 ATF for tracing.
Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF.
Of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

The Feinstein report follows an update to the U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico Report issued by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  According to that update, Mexican authorities have submitted trace requests for “tens of thousands of firearms” to the ATF.  However, the ATF has stated that many of these requests are duplicative, with some firearms being resubmitted for tracing five times or more. Moreover, the update notes that 75 percent of the firearm traces are not successful and that only eight percent lead to an investigation. Furthermore, as ATF has repeatedly stated, the tracing of a firearm (or the opening of an investigation) in no way indicates criminal wrong-doing by either the retailer or the first purchaser of the firearm.

The Wilson report also notes that most of the traced firearms were originally sold at retail more than five years earlier. The report doesn’t say how much earlier, but ATF has previously said that firearms traced from Mexico were on average 14 years old. This demonstrates that of the small percentage of guns that do come from the United States, these firearms have not been purchased recently.  

Despite attempts by anti-gun legislators to utilize these reports as leverage for pushing gun control, no one should be under any illusions; the United States is no more the source of 70 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican cartels than it is 90 percent.  These numbers only allege to relate to the small percentage of seized and traceable firearms submitted to the ATF.