From Hillary Clinton to Diane Feinstein to Bob Schieffer to the New York Times, gun control proponents keep repeating the claim that 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico's drug war were sold in the United States.
William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott say it just isn't true. As it turns out, the 90 percent statistic actually concerns only those guns Mexican authorities sent to the U.S. for tracing. Since the U.S. really has no means of tracing guns not manufactured in the U.S., Mexican authorities don't bother sending U.S. officials guns that were obviously manufactured elsewhere (generally guns that lack a U.S. serial number, or don't show signs of once having had one). So the 90 percent figure isn't surprising, and it isn't really alarming. It means that 90 percent of the guns Mexican authorities thought were probably made and sold in the U.S. were indeed made and sold in the U.S.
But that's not what gun control proponents have been saying. They've been saying nine of 10 guns used in all Mexican drug crimes came from the U.S. That number, La Jeunesse and Lott report, is closer to 17 percent.
The report explains that most of the weapons used by Mexico's drug cartels are actually illegal in the U.S. Even if they weren't, it makes little sense to suggest drug cartels are going through the hassle of sending thousands of "straw buyers" across the border to legally purchase guns in America when more powerful black market weapons are available from Russia, South America, China, and Guatemala without the bureaucracy and risk of registration. The L.A. Times hinted at as much in an article a couple of weeks ago, but seemed to miss the obvious connection that if the cartels are arming up with black market weapons unavailable in the U.S., the 90 percent figure trumpeted by U.S. politicians probably isn't correct.
Here's the other thing: According to one Mexican official, 150,000 Mexican soldiers have defected in the last year, taking their government-issued M-16s with them. Those guns are ending up in the hands of drug dealers. The U.S. is also continually sending more money and arms to Mexico to support President Calderon's military crackdown on the drug trade, but we send all of that aid knowing the high rate of defection among both soldiers and Mexican police officers, and the high rate of corruption and high percentage of Mexican officials on the cartels' payrolls. One firearms expert told LaJeunesse and Lott that some guns…
"…are legitimately shipped to the government of Mexico, by Colt, for example, in the United States. They are approved by the U.S. government for use by the Mexican military service. The guns end up in Mexico that way—the fully auto versions—they are not smuggled in across the river."
In other words, not only are U.S. politicians flat wrong when they say that 90 percent of the guns used in Mexico's drug war are coming from U.S. gun dealers recklessly selling legal American guns to cartel straw buyers, they're ignoring the fact that a not-insignificant number of the guns used by the cartels likely came from the U.S. government, in the form of the drug war aid.
Yet the federal government's strategy, as outlined by Hillary Clinton last week, is apparently to harass legitimate U.S. gun dealers while sending more weapons and money to the Mexican government.