Senators Feinstein, Schumer and Whitehouse on Halting U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico

BY Herschel Smith
13 years ago


We all know about Project Gunrunner, as it is formally called by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE).  We also know about the scandal it has been and is steadily becoming, with Congressional hearings pending and the bureau still stonewalling and using delaying tactics over Congressional inquiries.  We don’t know yet what will come of the hearings, but the BATFE and administration support troops have tipped their hand concerning their strategy.

Senators Dianne Feinstein, Charles Schumer and Sheldon Whitehouse have issued a report entitled Halting U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico.  Within a few days of releasing this study, The Washington Post and CNN parroted the talking points in respective articles.  The study itself is as remarkable for the misrepresentation of the facts concerning firearms trafficking to Mexico as it is for its recommendations for statutory remedies.

Analysis & Commentary

Before discussing the Feinstein recommendations it’s necessary to rehearse the demolition that Scott Stewart at STRATFOR performed of the myth that 90% of the weapons seized in Mexico were of American origin.

For several years now, STRATFOR has been closely watching developments in Mexico that relate to what we consider the three wars being waged there. Those three wars are the war between the various drug cartels, the war between the government and the cartels, and the war being waged against citizens and businesses by criminals.

In addition to watching tactical developments of the cartel wars on the ground and studying the dynamics of the conflict among the various warring factions, we have also been paying close attention to the ways that both the Mexican and U.S. governments have reacted to these developments. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects to watch has been the way in which the Mexican government has tried to deflect responsibility for the cartel wars away from itself and onto the United States. According to the Mexican government, the cartel wars are not a result of corruption in Mexico or of economic and societal dynamics that leave many Mexicans marginalized and desperate to find a way to make a living. Instead, the cartel wars are due to the insatiable American appetite for narcotics and the endless stream of guns that flows from the United States into Mexico and that results in Mexican violence.

Interestingly, the part of this argument pertaining to guns has been adopted by many politicians and government officials in the United States in recent years. It has now become quite common to hear U.S. officials confidently assert that 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican drug cartels come from the United States. However, a close examination of the dynamics of the cartel wars in Mexico — and of how the oft-echoed 90 percent number was reached — clearly demonstrates that the number is more political rhetoric than empirical fact.

As we discussed in a previous analysis, the 90 percent number was derived from a June 2009 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress on U.S. efforts to combat arms trafficking to Mexico (see external link).

According to the GAO report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican authorities in 2008. Of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

This means that the 87 percent figure relates to the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by Mexican authorities or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. In fact, the 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in Mexico in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing. This means that almost 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexico in 2008 were not traced back to the United States.

The most recent data that Feinstein cites, given to her by the BATFE, makes the same observation of the data, and that, by acting director Kenneth Melson.

There are no United States Government sources that maintain any record of the total number of criminal firearms seized in Mexico.  ATF reports relate only to firearms recovered in Mexico that were subsequently traced by ATF based upon firearms identifiers submitted to ATF by the Mexican government.  The Mexican government does not submit every recorded firearm to ATF for tracing …

Which point therefore makes the conclusions one can draw from the data very limited.  But that’s not how the Feinstein report paints the picture.  Right in the background statement, we read that “In a June 2009 report, the Government Accountability Office stated that around 87% of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced over the previous five years originated in the United States.”  The Washington Post was quick to pick up on the deconstructed meme, saying that “Of the 29,284 firearms recovered by authorities in Mexico in 2009 and 2010, 20,504 came from the United States, according to figures provided to the senators by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.”  This is clearly not factually correct, as many more firearms were seized by the Mexican authorities than 29,284.

In testimony to the dictum that if you repeat a lie enough times it will eventually be taken as truth, the 90% myth is now mainstream, and I have called out The St. Petersburg Times for relying on the myth for their editorials (with no response).  Senators Feinstein, Schumer and Whitehouse must be relying on the same dictum, because their wish list of increased firearms control measures is so expansive and draconian that it seems ridiculous to have connected all of this to a single effort.  The senators recommend:

  1. Closing the so-called gun show loophole in the laws.
  2. Redoubling efforts to enforce an import ban on weapons that fall into the category of military style weapons (e.g., with features such as pistol grip, forend grip, rails for tactical lights, high capacity magazines, etc.).  I have previously covered and commented on this ATF effort for shotguns.
  3. Reinstating the assault weapons ban.
  4. Multiple sales reporting to the federal government.
  5. Ratification of the The Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking of Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials (CIFTA).

And the justification for all of this?  Earlier in the report, Feinstein and staff discuss the laudable job that the ATF did with project gunrunner, but lament the fact that it alone cannot curb the trafficking of firearms to Mexico.

And now the loyal troops tip their hands.  To be sure, for a progressive, any increase in the power of government is a good thing.  All societal problems stem from a lack of regulation and oversight, all evil has its solution in more laws.  So the senators (and the administration) want what they can get out of this effort, if anything.  But something in the wind is foul.

With the coming Congressional investigations of project gunrunner and the illegality and inappropriateness of such a program, the administration and its troops see vulnerability.  Senators Feinstein, Schumer and Whitehouse are snipers picking at the advancing Congressional column with enfilade fire.  This effort is likely a decoy, a hastily designed effort to squeeze what they can from the failed gunrunner project, protect their flanks and split the advancing column.

Second amendment advocates must be diligent, and Senator Feinstein’s efforts should be monitored, analyzed and opposed.  But the real purpose of this report and its recommendations is to be a battlefield ruse.  With its lack of substantiation of the data, the lack of a basis for the recommendations, and the lack of analysis of the information, it’s as much of an admission of vulnerability and culpability as it is a last gasp effort to deny second amendment rights to American citizens.


Project Gunrunner: White House and DoJ Knowledge and Oversight

Analysis of ATF Study on the Importability of Certain Shotguns

Legislation on High Capacity Magazines

Cost Cutting Ideas for the Federal Government

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  1. On June 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm, Warbucks said:

    For what it’s worth, I believe you to be spot-on with your facts, analysis and conclusions.

    Somewhere along the way, I want to respond to the John Steinbeck instinct that the people we should be listening to are the campesino class and the weak middle class of Mexico on the matter of their peace movement.

    I find it unsavory that we in the US, as a society can maintain laws on our books that create the conditions that lead to the primary cause of the killings in Mexico. In no small part, I feel culpable and ashamed for our arrogance.

    There is at least another aspect which you refer to but I think it is the larger and controlling dynamic in the equation, Guns and Drugs are fungible commodities just like oil in the international market place. The profit margins in the illicit drug trade black market is the real target we need to focus on. So far all our actions world wide seem to be to protect vast secret empires and government’s to keep the drugs flowing through the continuance of policies that protect the Black Market profit margins…. sort of the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time.

    I have no problem with national leadership policies of “Just Say No.” It seems to work to some useful extent, one could argue, even necessary. Equally if not more importantly is a fair criticism by Mexico …”the cartel wars are due to the insatiable American appetite for narcotics and the endless stream of guns that flows from the United States into Mexico and that results in Mexican violence “…..

    “The Poet’s Peace Movement,” inside Mexico is not criticizing US values or life styles, their pleads are focused inside Mexico, pleading for new answers to dealing with the drug war as they report losing 40,000+ murdered, tortured and executed civilians.

    South of the border the drug war is escalating as it moves toward our boarders. Drug cartel fighting for domination of markets, now using home-made armored vehicles that require an escalated response.

    The home made armored vehicles are used to escort drug supply caravan shipments around Mexico. It’s like a scene out of Mad Max movies. 1-inch armored plated vehicles are the current drug lord vehicles of choice to guard shipments. And they do their job pretty well. Some of the vehicles and associated tactics are operating in Mexican Counties right on our border.

    So what we perceive and report as a three part drug war on the US side of the border is seen far more fearfully by Mexicans directly across our boarder in Mexico.

    We in the US are so predictable. I would expect to see soon under the current joint US-Mexican Drug War strategy we would send a couple of Apache choppers outfitted for night operations and 30mm anti-tank cannon come election time to show we are doing something about the problem and are in tight with good foreign policy with Mexico.

    There are always unintended consequences no matter what we do here in the US in response. Smuggling can not be stopped as long as the profit margins for the industry remain so great in the black markets.

    The recent Poet’s Peace Movement in Mexico will likely die not because of Mexican intransigence but because of US election politics and the need to “do something” about the drug lords. Our response is always so predictable to the war on drugs. I’d rather see my country legalize a whole list of drugs taking us back perhaps to the legal status of the same compounds during our War of Independence with England, than watch another 40,000 Mexican families murdered.

    I’ll tell you what, I’d rather let the drugs be sold and taxed legally than more of the same mind set we are living with now. There may be unintended consequences but I will work to keep my body drug free myself and I will try and teach my children and my grandchildren to do the same for themselves.

    The war on drugs doesn’t work at any level. Change it.

    Having said my little piece, I realize your thesis is not drug wars but real threats to our 2nd Amendment Rights from the New World Order and Agenda-21 social engineers, and I agree that you are spot-on in your analysis. But Mexico Government is not I believe pointing out a truth that we do have an insatiable appetite for drugs. The way we have been going about dealing with the problems border on insanity however. Don’t allow ourselves to believe we are not culpable in part for this problem. The Poet’s Peace Movement may enable us to begin to discuss fairer solutions for those of us who choose to self-destruct.

  2. On June 15, 2011 at 1:50 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Well, Rich, this is an involved response, and I will give an equally involved reply.

    First off, I have an extremely strong libertarian streak in me. I am certainly with you in spirit on the relaxation of the drug laws, especially as they pertain to the imprisoning of people for possession (where in the end we are taking very low level criminals and radicalizing them by being around hard core felons).

    But here is my problem with this strand of libertarianism (and I want to be very specific and careful with my wording). The trouble with many libertarians, and I’m not implying that you’re one of them, is that they want to cherry pick their way to Nirvana. If only we could get lax drug laws, if only I could stay high, if only we would stop all of this the violence would go away, if only, if only, if only …

    Only, it doesn’t end up working that way. We want to be partial, moderate, half-hearted libertarians. Give me a full-orbed, full-on, robust libertarian argument and I’ll buy it. Tell me that you know that if we do this there will be 2, or 5 or 10 million new junkies in the U.S. Tell me that this is a cost of the philosophy, and tell me (and this is the IMPORTANT part) that I won’t bear the cost of supporting them, feeding them, and healing them via my tax dollars, and I’ll sign on.

    But if you tell me you’re going to undo the drug laws and at the same time still hold me accoutable for supporting the ten million new junkies in the U.S., then you’re only a pretend libertarian, not a real one.

    As to the issue with the border, oh, I’ll bet you that we could stop (or almost stop) traffic across the border, regardless of the price for drugs. We could implement policies where anything that moves is assumed to be a national security threat, men, women and children, animals, vehicles, etc., etc., and shoot it on sight. Milatarize the border, and kill when necessary. The flow would cease and desist overnight.

    But we have made the decision as a society that we want illegal immigration, drug wars, death and destruction, poverty, higher taxes and so on and so forth, more than we want to secure the border.

    Illegal immigration and drugs exist because we want them to.

  3. On June 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm, Warbucks said:

    Herschel, what are you trying to do, make an honest man out me? Never!

    Full-on Libertarian? You mean like Cole Porter …. “Anything Goes” ?

    Sheeeez! I am not a member of the Libertarian Party, but I do admire their speakers for public office as they always leave a favorable impression on 98% of the issues.

    I’m thinking more like I can accept 10+ million people who are taking drugs now finding ways of doing it legally like the other 200-million of us that drink alcohol legally, with non-profit public service organizations like AA stepping in and working with those who want help.

  4. On June 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm, MethanP said:

    We are seeing the big lie in action The GAO numbers were quickly disproved, by you among others. The stoy died down. Now its back as if
    it was always the truth. So keep up the fight!

  5. On June 16, 2011 at 12:17 pm, Lina Invere said:

    Warbucks and Herschel: good discussion. Let me pose my favorite framing question: is the War on Drugs compatible with a free nation (or a nation of ordered liberty or whatever you want to call it)?

    Back in, say, the early ’90s when the gun grabbers were still riding their Federal legislative high and the nationwide sweep of shall issue concealed carry laws was in its infancy (Florida got it going in 1987) I would have said no. Now I’m not so sure, but I sure am concerned that I’m more concerned about my local police than official criminals (details on request, but it’s an alarming change from when I grew up in this smallish city in the ’60s and ’70s).

  6. On June 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm, Warbucks said:

    “is the War on Drugs compatible with a free nation ?”

    Your question comes from mind of a philosopher.

  7. On June 19, 2011 at 9:33 am, Warbucks said:

    My local Oakland Tribune (of The Alameda Newspaper Group) offers the very mindset our nation’s war on drugs has lead to. The War On Drugs does not work on any level. We are foolishly transforming our nation into an armed SWAT response. We see these tactics dominate our headlines our police response in ever increasing cycles of a fear based response. Herschel’s point is confirmed that our prisons only radicalize criminals.
    “Transnational gangs form alliance with Mexican cartel, becoming more sophisticated in trafficking drugs, guns, people” By Scott Johnson

    “LOS BANOS — Evidence is increasing that California prison gangs are forging close relationships with powerful drug-trafficking cartels in Mexico, according to U.S. law enforcement officials and gang experts who say the relationships have moved into a dangerous new area as Mexican cartels and American gangs swap tactical information, share intelligence and exchange techniques to avoid detection.

    ” “What we’re seeing is that highly sophisticated gangs, operating out of the prison system or from cartels in Mexico, are shot-calling, and then farming out the work to local street gangs in California, like the Norteños,” state Attorney General Kamala Harris said recently by phone from Los Banos, the scene of a large anti-gang operation June 7.

    “Increased cooperation across borders and among organized crime syndicates threatens California in new ways, officials say. As evidence, they point to the beginnings of a spillover into this country of the sort of violence that has pitted cartels against the Mexican government and army.

    “Historically, the term “transnational gang” has been used by academics and law enforcement officials to refer to the spread of such Central American gangs as Mara Salvatrucha into North Carolina, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Those gangs were formed in part by refugees who had fled the wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras in the 1980s and were deported back to their home countries. Many formed gangs to protect themselves. But they also exported violence.

    “A January report from the Congressional Research Service found that transnational gangs continue to expand, and over the past three years Congress has allocated more than $100 million to combat their growth in Central America and the U.S.

    “Harris said the term should be expanded to include the kind of cooperation she said is growing between California prison gangs and Mexican cartels that regularly traffic drugs, weapons and human beings across the U.S. border.

    ” “There is good reason to connect the activities of these gang members here with Mexico,” Harris said. “I think they’re very connected.”

    The raid

    “Just after 7 a.m. June 7 in Los Banos, a quiet Central Valley town, a dozen police officers in dark blue jumpsuits, SWAT gear and M-4 assault rifles loaded into four unmarked police trucks in the parking lot of a Carl’s Jr. They rolled through a quiet suburb of one-story ranch houses, European automobiles and leafy streets. Weapons ready, they knocked loudly at the door of a nondescript residence, and when a hefty Latino man in his mid-30s answered, they arrested him and quickly moved on.

    “Before the day was over, an additional 74 men would be taken in raids across the Central Valley in the largest gang sweep in California this year, according to detectives involved in the raid. More than 250 officers from 16 state and federal agencies swept into communities in two counties looking for members of a notorious California prison gang, Nuestra Familia, and its street affiliate, the Norteños.

    “The operation, “Red Zone,” was the latest continuation of a two-year Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement investigation into what Harris calls “the scourge of transnational gangs.” Two days later, a similar operation in Tracy netted 30 more alleged gang members.

    “Harris said she has made tackling transnational gangs a priority since her term began in January. Two major crackdowns, one in May and another in June, have resulted in almost 200 arrests of alleged gang members, and the seizure of about 200 pounds of methamphetamine.

    “After members of the Arrellano Felix cartel attempted to assassinate five members of a family in Palmdale, near Los Angeles, in February, Harris traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border to announce the expansion of a multiagency task force in Imperial County, along the border, to target transnational gangs….” …the article goes on at some length even demonstrating sterling managerial business practices of drug lords. Money is no object.

    Legalize the drugs and tax their sales. I will work to keep my own body drug free and try to teach my children and grand children to do the same. The drug wars only further enable government to develop harsher responses and attempt to limit liberty, freedoms and privacy. Change it.  

  8. On June 22, 2011 at 9:13 am, Warbucks said:

    Is this to stand as US End Game strategy for all of history?

  9. On December 5, 2011 at 11:12 pm, Gustine Coyote said:

    Feinstein is a Fascist liar. Her cronies in social crime Pelosi, Boxer and Waters are nothing more than Hitler followers who will stop nothing short of Nazi measures to promote their extreme Leftwing agenda to enslave and systematically exterinate any who oppose them. Hold to your religion like the Jews did but hold your firearms rights even more. You will need both to endure the bloodbath that these women want to do to the American people. They are more dangerous than Stalin or Hitler ever dreamed of being. Feinstein is letting thousands of Hispanic children and their parents starve to death in the Central Valley of California because she is backing environmentalists stop agricultural water flow to be stopped becuse of a non native bait fish in the Delta. If a person will starve children what do you think she has in store for you. This comment is for you ignorant leftwing college students in Berkeley who have no clue who puts a roof over your head, gives you your meals and a toilet to flush your crap. Wake up you morons. Obama have you Change and now you have nothing but Hope to save your sorry asses for voting for him. If you think I’m one Pissed off Cajudornian you are right for I have a whoke state legislature who is dependent on Federal subsidies to keep them in their palaces.

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You are currently reading "Senators Feinstein, Schumer and Whitehouse on Halting U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico", entry #7106 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) BATFE,Featured,Federal Firearms Laws,Firearms,Mexico,Obama Administration,Project Gunrunner,Second Amendment and was published June 14th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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