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:
- Closing the so-called gun show loophole in the laws.
- 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.
- Reinstating the assault weapons ban.
- Multiple sales reporting to the federal government.
- 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