Overseas/Interdiction

Do 90 Percent of the Guns Used in Mexican Drug Crimes Really Come From America?

|

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.

Brian Doherty wrote about Mexico's drug war here. Jesse Walker posted here about the media's and U.S. politicians' exaggerated reports about  Mexican drug war "spillover violence."

NEXT: Meet the New Budget, Worse Than the Old Budget

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. And the grenades? Where are those coming from?

    What percentage of the guns are sold to the cartels by corrupt DEA?

  2. 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.

    [insert exclamation of shocked disbelief]

  3. 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).

    Actually, most (if not all) foreign manufactured guns distributed (first consumer sale) in the US are tracable too.

    Both of my foreign made guns are stamped with the importer's mark, the serial numbers were recorded by the feds and are trackable down to the dealers who sold them to me. The dealer has records of my purchase.

    No, this is not to imply that the Sec. State and that other broad were correct in any way whatsoever. Just a technical point.

  4. You need to titrate the drug war bullshit stories better. There are too many each day and I can't really keep up the outrage. Can you limit it to two a week instead?

  5. So what you're saying here is that the U.S. doesn't have a big enough share of the lucrative international gun sales market, right?

  6. So what you're saying here is that the U.S. doesn't have a big enough share of the lucrative international gun sales market, right?

    If we did not have so many stupid regulations we would rule that market.

  7. So what you're saying here is that the U.S. doesn't have a big enough share of the lucrative international gun sales market, right?

    While you can never have too large a market share, you'll be pleased to know that the US is still the world's largest arms exporter.

  8. Maxim Lott?

  9. While you can never have too large a market share, you'll be pleased to know that the US is still the world's largest arms exporter.

    Yea, but that is all arms, not just rifles and pistols.

    Still, I shall shout a harty USA! USA! USA!

  10. Does it really matter where the guns were originally purchased? Let's say that 90% stat WERE correct. The reality is it is illegal to sell guns to criminals. The government doesn't need to go after the 2nd amendment, it needs to find who in the US is selling the guns illegally across the border. But then that is not really what is going on here. It is merely an excuse to have more "gun control".

    Full disclosure: I don't own a gun, and never have, but am very serious about the fact that I have a constitutional right to purchase one should I choose to do so.

  11. That 90% claim was one of those stats that you could tell was a politically motivated lie even without the research. How could buying in the U.S. and smuggling across the U.S. border possibly be the easiest and cheapest way for Mexican drug cartels to acquire guns? Very obviously it couldn't.

  12. Is gun control opponents supposed to be proponents? That would make more sense.

    Anywho, With liberals, I'm never sure sure where ignorance stops and malice begins. With guys like Bill Krystal and Dick Cheney, It used to be so much clearer. Now I'm just frustrated. Are they really just mentally retarded do-gooders?

  13. I just hope they aren't selling the Mexicans glocks - you know those guns don't even have safeties?

  14. You mean to say that gun controllers are cherry-picking data and lying about it in order to advance their agenda?

    Again?

    I'm shocked! Shocked! I thought that the Obama administration was going to be all transparent, follow the science without political bias, etc.

    Turns out they aren't truthful at all. Just truthy. No Hope for Change there, I guess.

  15. i Are they really just mentally retarded do-gooders?

    Yes

    Next question?

  16. i Are they really just mentally retarded do-gooders?

    [Damn tags]

    Yes

    Next question?

  17. Domo!!! If you start that "Glocks don't have safeties" crap here again . . . (shakes in rage)

    You are cruising for a bruising, sir!

  18. I just hope they aren't selling the Mexicans glocks - you know those guns don't even have safeties?

    You operate the trigger with your finger, correct?

    That is one safety right there that comes with every gun operator.

  19. You are cruising for a bruising, sir!

    I jess cant hep myself...

  20. You operate the trigger with your finger, correct?

    That is one safety right there that comes with every gun operator.

    Full disclosure: I know that Glocks have 3 internal safeties, and no external safety apart from a trigger activated stop. I own one, and think it's plenty safe (though harder to 'safe' than my ruger, which I prefer)

    I also enjoy poking "gun queers" in the eye, and taking long walks on the beach.

    I do this ONLY to help lower Naga Sadow's dangerously high blood pressure. Next time I promise a full fledged threadjacking. Happy Friday Naga.

  21. I wonder what would happen if they found out that nearly all child pornography 'manufactured' in Mexico was done so with cameras made in China...

  22. Mark Twain is reputed to have said something along like "figures never lie but liars do figure." Joseph Goebbels believed and used the heck out of the principle of the "Big Lie". Tell a whopper and some people will believe it because no one would dare tell a lie that big. He also knew that the truth isn't important. What people believe is what's important. Now the bulk of the USA media and people are walking around believing that 90% of the RPG's, hand grenades, and full auto AK47's in Mexico came from American gun shows, because the Attorney General and Secretary of State said so.

    My feeling is this. If you feel you have to lie to advance your agenda it's because you know your position cannot stand on the facts. Eventually the American people will figure out that Brady, Schumer, Feinstein, Clinton, Obama, and Holder are lying to them. After all, the Russians eventually figured out that Lenin was lying, perhaps a little too late, but they did get it eventually.

  23. So I lied. What do you want to do about it?

  24. Please President Obama, come home and order house to house gun confiscation.

    You are our only hope.

  25. I own one

    I'm sorry. I hear they have gun buybacks in a lot of cities where they'll give you $50 for that POS. I suggest you take them up on that, and buy a real gun.

  26. yeah - I shoot the ruger about 10x more.

  27. yeah - I shoot the ruger about 10x more.

    All other issues aside, the grip on glocks feel like a 2x4. Not comfortable in my hand at all, but I'm in the 1911 club so I'm obviously biased.

  28. Hillary | April 3, 2009, 1:38pm | #
    So I lied. What do you want to do about it?

    What do I want to do about it? Or what am I actually going to do about it?

    Similar questions, different answers.

  29. Maxim Lott...

    His dad must have been a huge gun fan to name him Maxim. You'd think 'Thompson' Lott or 'Sam Colt' Lott would work better here in the US.

  30. I'll start by saying I'm a professional analyst that follows border violence issues almost exclusively at my job, and no, I can't tell you where I work. I will tell you I know what I'm talking about when it comes to this issue. This article is misleading, poorly written, and filled with factual errors. The authors can't even do basic math, as some of their statistical figures are wrong (62% of guns were not submitted for trace, not 68%). They misquoted the Mexican Ambassador...it's 2,000 guns that are supposedly FLOWING INTO Mexico every day, not being SEIZED in Mexico. M-16s are not Belgian-made, they're mostly US-made by Colt and FN-Herstal. M-16s, while they are used by the Mexican army, are not the standard issue rifle - the FX-05 is. If the authors can't get these basic and easy-to-come-by facts right in an article like this, how to they expect a knowledgeable reader to take them seriously?

    It will take too long to delve into all the misleading statements about the traces, but I will say that the authors fail to provide the right context regarding guns not submitted for trace or able to be traced. The 6,000 guns that were traced statistically represent a sample population of the 29,000 guns seized by the Mexican government. The authors do NOT specify why those guns were successfully traced and the others were not. The country of manufacture is completely irrelevant - it's the point of sale that matters. If 90% of those traced guns go back to the U.S., then statistically one can assume that somewhere around 90% of the other guns also go back to the U.S. Notice I am talking about GUNS, not grenades, RPGs, LAW rockets, etc. Those do not come from U.S. gun shops, and are usually sold through direct-purchase deals between governments and manufacturers. Those get into DTO hands from corrupted Mexican army personnel, are stolen, or come into Mexico from Colombia, El Salvador, Russia, China, and elsewhere. But don't make the mistake of mixing apples and oranges, which the authors obviously have. Stick to assessing the GUN problem and don't confuse readers by interspersing bad facts about military-grade hardware.

  31. Gotcha spooky.

    Grenades, rockets, etc. get into criminal hands because of legitimate sales to the government which are then illictly redirected to the black market and not gun stores. This implies that the same illicit merchants are ignoring the large lucrative black market in illicit firearms sales and are letting all this business go to US gun stores.

    Yeah, that almost makes sense.

  32. His dad must have been a huge gun fan to name him Maxim. You'd think 'Thompson' Lott or 'Sam Colt' Lott would work better here in the US.

    At least he didn't name him Mannlicher.

  33. spooky926, FN Herstal is a Belgian company.
    http://www.fnherstal.com/index.php?id=161

    They have facilities in Herstal, Belgium that make small arms for all corners of the world.

    They do have US subsidiaries that make M16s for the US military, and these production facilities are located in the US to meet local producer requirements.

    The M16s manufactured in the US can be sold, per the National Firearms Act and the 1986 FOPA amendment to only the US military and US law enforcement. They cannot be sold to ordinary citizens.

  34. spooky926:
    If 90% of those traced guns go back to the U.S., then statistically one can assume that somewhere around 90% of the other guns also go back to the U.S.

    You missed a key point of the Lott article that says:

    But a large percentage of the guns recovered in Mexico do not get sent back to the U.S. for tracing, because it is obvious from their markings that they do not come from the U.S.

    You may be a professional analyst, blah blah, but you're dealing with gun owners, who after years of dealing with all kinds of gun grabbers, know their stuff. They know their firearms, the laws, and what can and cannot be bought on the street in the US. Get out of your high-powered office, visit a few gun shows in the US, and then make your way down to Mexico and ask to inspect the seized stockpiles of firearms to find out how many came from the US.

    1. Yeah Spooky, visit a gun show so you can see all the felons, gang bangers and mentally ill folk and see how easy it is to buy a gun from these wingnuts that don't care if these guns end up on the streets to be used for killing innocent people. Remember folks, bullets don't care who they kill black, white, rich, poor, young or old.

  35. The authors do NOT specify why those guns were successfully traced and the others were not.

    If 90% of those traced guns go back to the U.S., then statistically one can assume that somewhere around 90% of the other guns also go back to the U.S.

    One can assume that 90% of a group of guns that the Mexican government thinks came from the U.S., came from the U.S. The authors (of the various stories on this topic) DO say why those guns were traced. They were traced because they were from the MINORITY group of guns that were suspected of having come from the U.S. This is based on serial numbers on guns, or removed serials numbers from the locations on the guns where the U.S. serial numbers are present, other markings or the lack of markings (which can include no markings) exclusive to guns not imported into the U.S.

    This isn't rocket science, even for a fake or really bad analyst. The market for purchasing "legal" but strawman purchased and outright illegal fully automatic weapons in the United States is virtually non-existant.

    90% of X does not equal 90% of the whole if X is not eaual to the whole. That is true whether X is the sum of all illegal guns or if it is a statistical sample.

    I just read the comments on the Foxnews-linked article on Fark.

    http://www.fark.com/cgi/comments.pl?IDLink=4305732

    Yes, I'm a sick bastard AND I'm easily amused. Are you mdbirt on Fark?

    Go on Faux News, tell me more!

    Man, Fox, you don't have any credibility with smart people. But i guess you know that! Hence, your fooling all the idiots!

    It's called sampling.... may not have been done right, and is probably not 90% but it's totally legit. It's called S T A T I S T I C S.... it's what nerds learn a little while after they master addition....

    I guess the NRA is going to be your primary source of revenue now?

    Faux News-tards

  36. If the authors can't get these basic and easy-to-come-by facts right in an article like this, how to they expect a knowledgeable reader to take them seriously?

    Mainstream news media are not targeted at knowledgeable readers.

  37. According to one Mexican official, 150,000 Mexican soldiers have defected in the last year

    ???? The Mexican army has around 237,000 active soldiers (those who got guns) a lose of more than half their numbers in a year is impossible without the collapse of the army (something that isn't happening independently wherever you believe official data or not)

    It looks that Balko is making the same mistake that he is denouncing.

  38. According to Wikipedia, only about 10,000 of the FX-05 rifles have been issued.

    Yes, I know, Wikipedia is open source, anyone can edit it, blahblahblah.

    However, that would make sense. The US government heavily subsidizes the sales of small arms to foreign countries, so it would stand to reason that it would be much cheaper for Mexico to purchase M16 rifles* and field them, than to spin up the facilities to churn out hundreds of thousands of their home-grown assault rifle.

    *For some reason, it sticks in my head that we sell M16's to foreign governments for about $400 each.

  39. The 90% stat is certainly misleading, but so is the 17%. I just don't buy that it a coincidence that there are so many dealers along the border with Mexico. Why are they there? To sell to their customers. Who are their customers? People connected to the cartels. So yes, many guns come from other countries, but many guns the cartels use come from the US as well. If they didn't, there just wouldn't be so many stores on the border.

  40. hello friendz
    West Virginia Gun Trader is a forum which is related to sell or trade any gun according to west Virginia state laws. You are welcome to the forum and share everything.
    Thanks

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.