At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) once again defended ATF actions in Operation Fast and Furious while claiming, erroneously, that 70 percent of guns seized in Mexico were traced to the United States.
“The number of deaths caused by American guns are up in the tens of thousands,” she said, blaming U.S. gun laws for cartel-related violence in Mexico, and pushing for new regulations on law-abiding firearm retailers and purchasers.
Misinformation coming from Sen. Feinstein is of course nothing new, earlier this year Mrs. Feinstein was part of a trio of anti-gun senators– including Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) – that released a report (“Halting US Firearms Trafficking to Mexico“) alleging that the number of firearms recovered in Mexico and traced to the United States was 70 percent. Though this unfounded claim represented a decrease from the gun-control lobby’s favorite 90 percent myth, it remains every bit as incorrect.
These percentages do not reflect the total number of firearms recovered. In fact, in a letter to Sen. Feinstein, then 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.”
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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.
In September, ATF released new data showing the average age of recovered firearms (Dec. 2006 – August 2010) in Mexico was more than 15 years old – clearly these firearms have not been purchased recently in the United States. ATF data also shows that 21 percent of Mexican trace requests are in fact duplicates — with some firearms being resubmitted for tracing as many as five times. More still, 75 percent of the firearm traces are not successful and only eight percent lead to an investigation. Now take that eight percent and consider what ATF has repeatedly warned — that 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.
Despite attempts by Sen. Feinstein and other anti-gun legislators to blame America’s firearms industry for the violence in Mexico, 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. And calling for even more burdensome regulations on America’s firearms retailers is a solution in search of a problem.