The Washington Post says:
The foundation and the National Rifle Association aggressively challenge statistics that show 80 to 90 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico are first sold in the United States, calling the numbers highly inflated. After being criticized by the gun lobby, ATF stopped releasing such statistics this year.
Well, yes. Gun-rights groups do aggressively challenge those statistics, because they aren’t true and the ATF knows it.
The bogus 90% figure refers to guns that were successfully traced. As it turns out, traces are not even attempted for most Mexican crime guns, and most of the traces that are attempted are unsuccessful. When a trace is successful, it probably leads to the United States, because the US requires guns to have traceable markings and those markings are recorded whenever guns change hands legally. In other words, the 90% is meaningless, corresponding to the old story about looking for your keys under the lamppost because that’s where the light is.
ASIDE: It is interesting that the Mexican authorities do not consider tracing guns to be a valuable tool (IG’s report on ATF’s Project Gunrunner, page 78) and rarely participate. One official called the effort “some kind of bad joke”. Thus, we can best understand the ATF’s efforts as a weapon against American gun dealers, not as a weapon against Mexican criminals.
According to Bob Owens, William McMahon (deputy assistant director for field operations at the ATF) testified to Congress that the real number of Mexican crime guns originating from legal US sales is 8%. Eight percent!
ASIDE: Unfortunately, the online copy of McMahon’s testimony includes only his initial statement, not his answers to questions, so I can’t confirm Owens’s account directly. However, the numbers that Owens cites
Of the 100,000 weapons recovered by Mexican authorities, only 18,000 were determined to have been manufactured, sold, or imported from the United States, and of those 18,000, just 7,900 came from sales by licensed gun dealers.
are consistent with figures that appear in McMahon’s testimony and the Project Gunrunner report. McMahon (on page 14) refers to 13,382 guns, and the DOJ IG (on page 117) refers to 13,481 estimated guns trafficked, so if the 100k figure is of the right order of magnitude (as surely it must be) then the number holds up, at least to a first approximation.
Returning to the Post, since the 90% figure is bogus, it’s entirely appropriate for the ATF to stop peddling it. It’s a pity that it fell to the gun lobby to criticize them for their misinformation, rather than publications such as the Washington Post.
POSTSCRIPT: The 90% is just an aside in the Post article. The topic of the article is that the Post has gained access to the ATF’s gun tracing statistics, which are required to be confidential by federal law. Anti-gun groups have wanted access to this information for years, but have failed to get the law changed. Nevertheless, as we have seen many times during this administration already, the Holder Justice Department feels no obligation to obey laws it doesn’t agree with. We don’t know who leaked the information to the Post (the Post surely won’t say), and it seems certain that any investigation will be desultory at best.