Thursday, February 16, 2012
The 70-90% Lie
Question: I have heard again and again that the vast majority of guns used by the Mexican cartels are purchased in US gun shops. How do we know this not true?
There are four reasons we know it’s not true:
First, we know it is not true because it doesn’t make sense.
Second, we know it’s not true because the argument for it is bogus – and when analyzed logically and correctly the evidence shows that it is not true.
Third, we have positive evidence that the guns are coming from other sources.
Fourth, US Gun Dealers Actively Work to Prevent Straw Purchases and Gun Trafficking.
So, let’s look at these reasons one at a time:
First, it just doesn’t make sense.
Cartels are not like most criminal organizations. They are huge – and they need to arm what are virtual armies. They have huge amounts of money. They control lots of land and lots land and coastline. They have many local police officials on their payrolls. Last of all, they smuggle things for a living.
Given the above facts, why would a cartel use the US retail market as a primary source of firearms? Consider what has to be done to procure one AK47 (a favorite cartel weapon) and convert it to fully automatic. First, a straw buyer must be found to buy the gun. He or she must then by no more than one or two guns at a time so as not to get reported by the gun dealer. The buyer must then pay a premium price (by world standards) of $450.00 – 750.00. Of course the straw buyer must be paid (usually about $100.00 - $200.00 per gun). So, let’s say that they spend $700.00 on each gun – and we will assume that they are able to smuggle the gun back over the border at no cost, since they are bringing drugs north and the same teams could transport guns south. But once they get the gun to their base in Mexico, they are not done. They still have to have their gunsmiths convert the rifle to fully automatic, which takes some time and effort.
In contrast, the going rate for a fully automatic AK47 on the Central American black market is $75.00. Central America is awash in weapons – including many supplied by the US – that were used in the wars back in the 1980’s. Then there is the possibility of buying new guns at wholesale from an overseas source – like China, North Korea or Iran. (China’s biggest arms maker is under a US ban for selling fully automatic AK47s directly to an LA street gang – so these countries, all of which produce AK47s in huge numbers – would certainly be happy to sell them to the cartels.) Getting these guns into the country is not hard for organizations that smuggle for a living. Then there are the internal sources – corrupt Mexican officials who are willing to order more guns than their police or military unit really needs in order to sell them to the cartels. Any of these sources are easier and cheaper than the US retail market. Why in the world would the cartels go through all that trouble when there are easier and cheaper sources available to them?
Second, the argument that the data shows that most cartels come from the retail market is bogus.
It is intentionally dishonest. The dishonestly begins with he carefully worded statement, “90% (or sometimes 70%) of crime guns recovered in Mexico and submitted to the ATF for tracing were made in or sourced through the US.” This statement, while technically correct, is intended to convey the message that these guns are coming from the US retail market. Politicians – up to and including President Obama – have presented it as such. As we shall see, this is not the case – and both the ATF and the administration know it.
The two underlined sections are key. The first one “and submitted to the ATF for tracing” is huge. Less than 30% of Mexican crime guns are submitted to ATF for tracing. Why would the Mexican government not submit a gun for tracing?
The most obvious reason would be that it is readily apparent that the gun is not from the US. How would Mexican authorities know this? The lack of a serial number would be a huge clue (they have been required by law on all guns made or imported into the US since 1969). Foreign markings on the receiver would also be a dead give away, since no foreign “Assault Weapons” can be imported to the US.
Other reasons that Mexico might not submit a gun to the ATF include the fact that it was taken to the cartels by a defecting police or military member, or that it was diverted or stolen from the Mexican military or police.
It is also clear that Mexico wants to blame the US for the violence in Mexico. They therefore have a strong motivation to “selectively submit” guns for tracing in order to blame the US. It is a logical to conclude that they pre-screen guns before sending the serial numbers to the ATF. Therefore the 90% figure is really an indication of how good the Mexican pre-screen of the guns is – not an indication that 90% of guns used in Mexico come from the US.
So, a hard look at the phrase “and submitted to the ATF for tracing” has reduced our number from 90% to approximately 27%. So that means that about 27% of cartel guns are coming from US gun shops, right?
Wrong. We have yet to examine the second of the ATF’s carefully chosen statement: “made in or sourced through the US”. What does that include? The short answer is just about any gun that has ever been in the US. It includes American guns sent to countries other than Mexico as military aid and those sold to countries other than Mexico for use by their police and military. If these show up in Mexico – as a result of the international black market – they are counted as “US sourced”. If a Mexican soldier or police officer is issued a US made weapon, and then defects to one of the cartels – or sells his weapon – or is killed and his weapon taken from him or her – that weapon would count if submitted for tracing. US made guns sold to the Mexican government for their police and military for use in fighting the cartels and some of them are diverted to one of the cartels if recovered and submitted, these would count as “US sourced” too. Ditto if the gun was legally exported to Mexico and sold for civilian use. Finally, in addition to all the preceding if the gun was purchased in a US gun store by a straw purchaser and smuggled over the border – this too counts as US sourced.
So, even when the gun actually does come from the US, being sold in a US gun shop and then smuggled in, is only one of many ways it may have gotten into Mexico. Is there any way for us to tell what percentage of guns traced back to the US come from Mexico? The answer is yes, ATF could easily research this, but for some reason ATF doesn’t want to go to the trouble of doing so – perhaps because it does not suit their agenda.
The only hint is what ATF calls the “time to crime” average. The “time to crime” is literally the time from first sale to recovery by law enforcement (US or otherwise). Organized purchasing in US gun stores, followed by a quick trip over the border logically should result in one of the quickest time to crime figures – a few weeks to a few years. Averaged out, given the crime rate in Mexico, it should average no more than 2-3 years. A much longer time would suggest that a high percentage of US sourced guns are used guns being sold to the cartels on the international black market. The average time to crime on US sourced guns in Mexico is 14 years – which is highly suggestive that the vast majority of cartel guns ARE NOT COMING FROM US GUN SHOPS, BUT FROM OTHER SOURCES.
So, what is the real figure? Realistic estimates range from 8-17% for guns coming from US retail sources and 30-40% for guns from any US source - a far cry from the bogus 70-90% promoted by the administration – a figure that even the left leaning organization factcheck.org says, “Based on the best evidence we can find so far, we conclude that the 90 percent claim made by the president and others in his administration lacks a basis in solid fact.”
Third, we have positive evidence that the majority of guns are coming from other sources.
The Central American Black Market: Ironically, State Department cables obtained and released by Wikileaks reveal that at the same time that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was claiming that 70-90% of Mexican crime guns were coming from US gun shops the US Ambassador to Mexico was submitting reports that indicated that the primary source of these guns was the Central American Black Market.
State Department direct sales program: This program allows foreign governments – including Mexico – to buy weapons directly from US manufacturers. Mexico is the largest user of this program, buying tens of thousands of weapons each year. A huge percentage of these firearms are diverted to the cartels through theft and corruption. The State Department finds itself in a Catch-22 situation because Mexico needs guns to fight the cartels – but many of the guns sold to Mexico actually end up in the hands of the people both we and the Mexicans are fighting.
Defecting Troops and Police: In recent years 150,000 members of the Mexican military and police have defected to the cartels. It is absurd to think that they would turn in their issued weapon before defecting. It’s a safe bet that most of these people took their government owned guns with them.
The Wider International Arms Market: According to Fox News, "Mexico is a virtual arms bazaar, with fragmentation grenades from South Korea, AK-47s from China, and shoulder-fired rocket launchers from Spain, Israel and former Soviet bloc manufacturers. Interpol says Russian Mafia groups such as Poldolskaya and Moscow-based Solntsevskaya are actively trafficking drugs and arms in Mexico. Chinese assault weapons and Korean explosives have been recovered in Mexico." The cartels want weapons and have billions of dollars to spend – as a result vendors from all over the world are actively selling guns to them.
Fourth, US Gun Dealers Actively Work to Prevent Straw Purchases and Gun Trafficking
The actions of gun dealers in Fast and Furious show that they are alert to straw purchasing and both refuse sales and contact law enforcement when they detect such activity.
To those of us who know gun dealers, the idea that a dealer would intentionally sell guns to smugglers is absurd. The abuse of guns by criminals threatens their livelihood. The most common previous career found among gun dealers and employees is law enforcement. Both on and of duty cops frequent gun shops. ATF works with the National Shooting Sports Foundation – the gun dealers and manufacturers trade organization – to train dealers and employees to spot and report straw purchasers. It works very well. As one ATF agent testified before congress, “Gun dealers are our friends – they make our cases.”
When dealers see indications of straw purchasing (such as buyer driving a beat up car buying a $2,000.00 rifle) they usually report this to the ATF while the purchaser is in the store. They also try to delay the suspicious buyer – for instance by telling him or her that there is a small problem with their background check that will be resolved in the next few minutes. They even have a name for it: The STALL and CALL. Prior to the Fast and Furious debacle, the usual ATF response was to detain the purchaser in question in the store or in the parking lot. They frequently would arrest them on the spot.
Even in cases where ATF did not ever show up, the vast majority of gun dealers are not going to risk their license and their business to sell one gun to someone they believe should not have a firearm. They simply refuse the sale.
The difference in Fast and Furious was that the gun dealers were ORDERED TO SELL THE GUNS. Gun dealers were extremely uncomfortable about this. They required the ATF to put their directions in writing. They recorded phone calls. Most of all, they expressed concern that the guns they were being ordered to sell would be used to kill innocent people. One dealer emailed the ATF exec in charge of the operation asking for reassurance that none of the guns going out of his shop would be allowed to remain in the hands of criminals or be allowed to cross the border. He said that he had friends in the Border Patrol and that he was concerned that these guns might be used against them. What response did he get? The ATF manager lied to him – saying that all of the guns were being intercepted and were not crossing the border. A few weeks later, Border Patrol Agent Brain Terry was killed with a gun from this man’s shop.
Indeed, Fast and Furious proves that large scale gun smuggling is not possible. These dealers detected the straw purchasers and called ATF. The problem was that instead of arresting these people, and “flipping” to take out the smugglers – they ordered the dealers to sell the guns. Not only that, they had the FBI “fix” the National Instant Check System (NICS) so prohibited persons would pass the background checks. If it were not for the ATF, the smugglers involved in Fast and Furious would never have been able to buy anywhere near the number of guns they needed to supply even a small percentage of the cartel’s needs.
Yet, what was ATF’s response? They blamed the dealers by issuing a possibly illegal regulation requiring dealers to report all multiple sales of semi-auto rifles within two weeks. Dealers are not the problem and ATF knows it. The problem is the ATF itself.
The bottom line is that the “river of guns” flowing from US gun shops to Mexico is no more than a small trickle. The 70-90% figure is intentionally misleading and definitely inaccurate.
In fact, if guns were outlawed in the US tomorrow the cartels would be able to start sending guns to the US within days. They would have another lucrative business.
ATF Mexico Gun Statistics Flawed
U.S. Arming Mexican Cartels? - America's Third War: Firearms, explosives sold through State Department funneled to criminals
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America's Third War: Is the U.S. Arming Mexican Cartels?
"Iron River of Guns" a Myth, STRATFOR Says
Factcheck.org: Counting Mexico’s Guns - President Obama says 90 percent of Mexico's recovered crime guns come from the U.S. That's not what the statistics show.
Mexico's President Cites Debunked Claim That Most Guns in Mexico Come From U.S.
NewsBrief: Mexico's Guns Smuggled From Central America, Says WikiLeaks
The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S.
Mexican cartels get heavy weapons from CentAm, U.S. cables say
Mexican Drug Guns Coming from Central America Not US Sources