Mexican ambassador calls US to task on gun trade; Fox News, Gun Lobby return fire

Mexico’s ambassador to the US, Arturo Sarukhan, speaking to Bob Schieffer of CBS’ “Face the Nation” April 12, once again called the norteamericanos to task for allowing a highly unregulated gun trade which is fueling armed violence south of the border. Transcript from CQ Politics:

Schieffer: In your estimation, where are most of these weapons coming from? From the United States?

Sarukhan: Ninety percent of all weapons we are seizing in Mexico, Bob, are coming from across the United States. Just on the Arizona and Texas borders with Mexico alone there are approximately 7,000 FFLs, federal firearms licensees. And a lot of the weapons that are being bought by the drug syndicates, either directly or through proxy purchases are coming from those gun shops.

Schieffer: The National Rifle Association and the gun lobby takes issue with your statements that most of them are coming from the United States. What data do you have to back that up, Mr. Ambassador?

Sarukhan: Well, the data that we have is the one that we’ve been sharing with our counterparts in the U.S. government, ATF and the Justice Department, and other agencies that have been working with us to determine where those guns are coming from. Look at the most recent large seizure in Reynosa, a town that is on the border. In November, in a military checkpoint, just about three or four kilometers into Mexican territory, we seized more than 250 assault weapons and half a million rounds of ammo. These had just crossed over the border from the United States into Mexico. By tracing back these weapons, by looking at the types of weapons, we’re determining that most of these weapons are coming from the United States, Bob.

The supposedly “Fair and BalancedFox News, reporting on the interview, called the 90% figure a “myth”, claiming “in fact, only 17 percent of guns found at Mexican crime scenes have been traced to the US.” This assertion is based on an April 2 Fox story, “The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From US,” which included the following text:

What’s true, an ATF spokeswoman told, in a clarification of the statistic used by her own agency’s assistant director, “is that over 90 percent of the traced firearms originate from the U.S.”

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.

“Not every weapon seized in Mexico has a serial number on it that would make it traceable, and the U.S. effort to trace weapons really only extends to weapons that have been in the U.S. market,” Matt Allen, special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told FOX News.

A Look at the Numbers
In 2007-2008, according to ATF Special Agent William Newell, Mexico submitted 11,000 guns to the ATF for tracing. Close to 6,000 were successfully traced — and of those, 90 percent — 5,114 to be exact, according to testimony in Congress by William Hoover — were found to have come from the U.S.

But in those same two years, according to the Mexican government, 29,000 guns were recovered at crime scenes.

In other words, 68 percent of the guns that were recovered were never submitted for tracing. And when you weed out the roughly 6,000 guns that could not be traced from the remaining 32 percent, it means 83 percent of the guns found at crime scenes in Mexico could not be traced to the U.S.

So, if not from the U.S., where do they come from? There are a variety of sources:

— The Black Market. 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.

— Russian crime organizations. Interpol says Russian Mafia groups such as Poldolskaya and Moscow-based Solntsevskaya are actively trafficking drugs and arms in Mexico.

– South America. During the late 1990s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) established a clandestine arms smuggling and drug trafficking partnership with the Tijuana cartel, according to the Federal Research Division report from the Library of Congress.

— Asia. According to a 2006 Amnesty International Report, China has provided arms to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Chinese assault weapons and Korean explosives have been recovered in Mexico.

— The Mexican Army. More than 150,000 soldiers deserted in the last six years, according to Mexican Congressman Robert Badillo. Many took their weapons with them, including the standard issue M-16 assault rifle made in Belgium.

— Guatemala. U.S. intelligence agencies say traffickers move immigrants, stolen cars, guns and drugs, including most of America’s cocaine, along the porous Mexican-Guatemalan border. On March 27, La Hora, a Guatemalan newspaper, reported that police seized 500 grenades and a load of AK-47s on the border. Police say the cache was transported by a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Ixcan, a border town.

The text also specifically calls out Sarukhan:

The exaggeration of United States “responsibility” for the lawlessness in Mexico extends even beyond the “90-percent” falsehood — and some Second Amendment activists believe it’s designed to promote more restrictive gun-control laws in the U.S.

In a remarkable claim, Auturo Sarukhan, the Mexican ambassador to the U.S., said Mexico seizes 2,000 guns a day from the United States — 730,000 a year. That’s a far cry from the official statistic from the Mexican attorney general’s office, which says Mexico seized 29,000 weapons in all of 2007 and 2008.

Note the disingenuous leap of logic here. Those guns which could not be traced to the US are assumed to be “not from the US.” The possibility is not raised that Sarukhan was making an extrapolation from the available data. Instead he is simply portrayed as a liar. So much for “fair and balanced.”

Given the broad overlap between Mexico’s cartels and Mexico’s military and police forces, the army is probably chief among the listed non-US sources. There seems to be some mutual scapegoating here. If Mexico seeks to scapegoat the US gun trade to cover up for its own security forces arming of the cartels, so too does the US Gun Lobby seek to scapegoat the Mexican army, China, FARC, Russian mafia, etc. As we reported last year, citing a Jan. 16, 2007 story in the Arizona Republic:

During the Fox administration, an astonishing 2,000 guns entered Mexico every day, overwhelmingly from across the northern border, according to official Mexican estimates. This “iron river” of guns, as it has been called, has swollen since the US Congress allowed the federal ban on assault weapons to expire in 2004. Mexican authorities confiscated an unprecedented 10,579 smuggled weapons in 2005, and they say 90% of them come from the United States.

Other instances we compiled from local media reports both sides of the border:

The arms intercepted on the border are likely a small fraction of those that make it through. In December, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided a Phoenix storage locker and seized 42 weapons, including AK-47s and Belgian FN handguns; just weeks earlier, BATF agents in Phoenix had seized more than 60 AK-47s, other assault rifles, handguns, and an Uzi. In both cases, bureau agents said most of the weapons were purchased at gun shows and were bound for Mexico.

Seizures across the border have been even more dramatic. In August, a single raid at the Nogales crossing yielded 163 weapons, and in February 2007 the Mexican army seized a tractor-trailer loaded with some 20 M-16s, M-4 carbines, and grenade launchers—along with an armored pickup truck—in Matamoros. A federal agent involved in the raid was killed the following day by AK fire.

In other words, however much Sarukhan may (or may not) be distorting the figure, it is utterly disingenuous to deny the reality of the US gun trade’s significant (at least) role in arming the cartels. Another irony is that, thanks to programs such as the Mérida Initiative, the Mexican military that arms the cartels is also massively supported by the US. Yet neither the right-wing law’n’order types at the Gun Lobby nor the liberal law’n’order types at the Gun Control Lobby are offering any protest of that.

See our last post on Mexico’s narco wars. See also our special report, “Border Under Siege: US Military Training and Texas Guns Fuel Mexico’s Narco Wars

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