In her column last week (“The responsibility is ours,” May 25, 2010), Susan Estrich claimed that crime in Mexico was attributable to “American assault rifles bought at gun stores on the border” and that “Eighty percent of the 75,000 assault weapons seized by Mexican authorities were traced back to the United States.” To set the record straight, NSSF President Steve Sanetti submitted his own op-ed piece for publication.
In her op-ed last week (“The responsibility is ours,” May 25, 2010), Susan Estrich claimed that crime in Mexico was attributable to “American assault rifles, bought at gun stores on the border” and that “Eighty percent of the 75,000 assault weapons seized by Mexican authorities were traced back to the United States.” Let’s clear this up right now.
Investigations and regulatory compliance inspections by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) into firearms trafficking along the Southwest border have confirmed that firearms retailers are law-abiding businessmen and women who are playing a key role in detecting and deterring illegal purchases of firearms.
Furthermore, as part of a Project Gun Runner Impact Team (GRIT) firearms trafficking operation, more than 1,100 firearms retailers were inspected by ATF. Of these 1,100 inspections only one retailer license was revoked. One. In addition, ATF investigated more than 1,000 leads and didn't find a single so-called "corrupt" dealer.
Turning to the columnist’s firearms tracing inaccuracies: According to the ATF, some 29,000 firearms were recovered in Mexico in 2008 (the most recent year statistics are available); of these approximately 5,000 were traced to U.S. sources. That means more than 80 percent of the firearms recovered in Mexico were not traced to the United States. It would seem Ms. Estrich is conflating the total number of firearms recovered (29,000) with the total number of firearms recovered AND traced (5,000). Eighty percent of the total number of recovered firearms verses 80 percent of the number of recovered and traced firearms is monumentally different. Of course, just where Ms. Estrich comes up with 75,000 “assault weapons” is dubious – as questionable as how she defines an “assault weapon.”
Semi-automatic rifles, demonized as so-called 'assault weapons,' are not machine guns but modern sporting rifles (firing only one round per pull of the trigger) that are used every day by law-abiding Americans for the shooting sports, hunting and home protection. Since 2004, when the ban expired, modern sporting rifles have fast become one of the most popular types of firearms for law-abiding Americans to purchase.
According to the ATF, firearms recovered in Mexico and successfully traced by ATF were originally purchased at retail - following a background check -- on average 14 years ago. This is completely inconsistent with the notion that a flood of newly purchased firearms is being illegally smuggled over the border from the United States into Mexico.Ms. Estrich backs Mexican President Calderon in his attempt to tie drug cartel violence in Mexico to Congress' decision to allow the "assault weapon ban" to end in 2004. But the facts are that the murder rate in Mexico, like the United States, has been steadily decreasing since before 2004. Mexico's murder rate has fallen sharply from a decade ago. The National Public Security System reports that in 2008, the most recent year with available data, 12 people per 100,000 were the victims of murder. In 1997, the number was 17. In the late 1980s, the murder rate hovered near 20, according to the National Statistics and Geographic Institute.
So where are cartel-linked firearms coming from? It is well-documented that the drug cartels are illegally smuggling fully automatic firearms, grenades and other weapons into Mexico from South and Central America. Such items are not being purchased at retail firearms stores in the United States.
Members of the firearms industry have long cooperated with law enforcement. For example, the National Shooting Sports Foundation – the trade association for the firearms industry – has partnered with the ATF for nearly a decade on a national campaign to make the public aware that it is a serious crime to straw purchase a firearm. Called Don’t Lie for the Other Guy, the program also helps ATF to educate firearms retailers to be better able to detect and prevent illegal straw purchases. This is an award-winning program that members of America’s firearms industry have put millions and millions of dollars into funding.
Though Ms. Estrich’s passion is compelling, her knowledge of firearms trafficking is not. Diminishing the civil rights of law-abiding Americans will not solve Mexico’s crime problem. Neither will misrepresenting statistics in our country’s newspapers.
Stephen L. Sanetti President National Shooting Sports Foundation