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Report: Guns Flow South Thanks to U.S.

By Ed O'Keefe

A Mexican federal police officer carries weapons seized during an anti-drug operation in Mexico City on Wednesday. (AP Photo by Alexandre Meneghini)

The federal government has failed to develop a coordinated strategy to stop the illegal trafficking of firearms into Mexico, according to a new government report.

The General Accountability Office investigation released today (pdf) cites Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data that approximates 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and submitted to the U.S. for tracing in the last five years came from the U.S., and found that roughly one quarter of the guns seized are high-caliber, high-powered assault style weapons, including AK-47s and AR-15s.

Most of the illegal weapons that cross the border are intended to support Mexican drug cartels, lending added firepower to an already lethal Mexican drug war.

Investigators concluded that uncoordinated government efforts have hampered efforts to stop the gun flow.

"Individual U.S. agencies have undertaken a variety of activities and projects to combat arms trafficking to Mexico, but they are not part of a comprehensive U.S. government-wide strategy for addressing the problem," according to the report.

ATF and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the two agencies most responsible for tracking illegal weapons, "do not consistently coordinate their efforts effectively, in part because the agencies lack clear roles and responsibilities and have been operating under an outdated interagency agreement."

In a response published with the GAO report, the Department of Homeland Security disputes GAO's conclusions, noting that ATF and ICE regularly share information. The department is also awaiting final approval of a new agreement between the two agencies that was drafted in April.

Earlier this month the Obama administration also released a new government-wide strategy to combat the flow of illegal drugs, guns and cash across the U.S.-Mexico border. The 65-page White House report (pdf) calls for new technologies, more intelligence gathering and increased interdiction of ships, aircraft and vehicles carrying illegal goods. It also acknowledges that the 2007 Merida Initiative developed to tackle the illegal drug trade did not account for the flow of illegal cash and weapons.

Federal restrictions on the two agencies have also made it difficult to stop the flow of guns. Federal law prevents collecting and reporting certain information on firearms purchases and creation of a national registry of firearms is prohibited. That slows the time to trace a gun, which means leads grow cold before police even know where the gun originated.

"It is mind-boggling that for a year and a half, we have had no inter-agency strategy to address this major problem, but instead have relied on uncoordinated efforts by a variety of agencies," Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) said today in at a House subcommittee hearing about the GAO report.

"It is simply unacceptable that the United States not only consumes the majority of the drugs flowing from Mexico, but also arms the very cartels that contribute to the daily violence that is devastating Mexico," he added.

Washington Post staff writers James Grimaldi and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 18, 2009; 11:42 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Oversight  
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Though the article says 87% for those submitted for trace by the Mexicans come from the US, how many of the total number of guns seized were submitted?
If they submitted all then it's a big issue, but if the Mexicans only asked for traces on 5% of the total, not so much.

Posted by: harriskern | June 18, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

So in other words any guns Mexico collects are first traced by Mexican authorities to weed out everything that has provenance from anywhere other than the US & then whatever is left over (or ones they suspect DO come from the US) are then turned over to us to trace. No surprise that most of them come back as ID'ed & originating from the US... Maybe this isn't the case, but the write up is ambiguous & I'd bet a dime that I'm right.

Also no mention of all those "assault weapons" being full auto vs semi. While I have no doubt they get some full auto, I bet not all of the 1/4 they get are of that nature. If they were the reporter would have been sure to mention it.

All we need to do is build that wall & mount a bunch of automated MaDueces on it set to shoot anything bigger than a coyote that comes in the "kill zone". Gun problem solved. Illegal immigration problem solved (ok we still have 12 million or so that are in the states to get rid of but at least it's a start).

Posted by: Tink3 | June 18, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for clarifying that three out of four guns smuggled to Mexico are not the scary-looking "assault style" (whatever that means).

Posted by: k_romulus | June 18, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Ahh. More LIES and half-truths from the administration of Dear Leader. Only about 1 in 5 guns "captured" in Mexico is traced, because either the gun has no serial number, and thus NOT MADE in the U.S., or the gun is clearly ID'd. Usually as being from Venezuela or an American supplied machine gun that was taken when the soldier it was issued to DESERTED WITH IT! No one is buying $1500 semi-autos in the U.S., taking them to a machine shop and spending more to convert them into full autos and then smuggling them into Mexico. Not when they can smuggle in brand new AK-47's, real ones, from Venezuela. I'm not giving up my rights to somehow "protect" Mexico from itself.

Posted by: Fiftycaltx1 | June 18, 2009 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I say again that Hollywood and liberal media hype leave the impression that fully automatic weapons are legal and sold in gun shops in the United States. Get it straight people. Fully operational AK-47, machine guns and M-16 assault rifles are not legally sold to the general public in this country. The military firearms coming into Mexico are either smuggled from South America, China, Russia or the Mexican military. Assault rifles are used only by the U.S. military and very few licensed individuals or companies can, or even want to, own them in the U.S. Keep the Obama / Clinton gun ban out of the picture and off the books. It will only create more distrust of the present administration’s personal agenda.

Of course this is not to say a few illegal firearms are not smuggled, purchased or stolen in this country and moved across the border by a criminal element. I would believe if the money could be followed, Illegal American or foreign gun runners may be purchasing out of country and shipping direct to Mexico for profit. For this reason, the criminal needs to be caught and prosecuted using the current laws forbidding this practice instead of making more laws that affect only the law abiding citizens. Leave the current common sense laws protecting the second amendment alone and concentrate on the real problem. The criminal element in this country, both government and civilian.

The government can make all the laws and rules they want to hinder the criminals but they need to get their own act together to take care of the criminals in public office before attempting to add more responsibility to their corrupt plate.

Posted by: longbow651 | June 18, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Dishonesty is a common thread through the arguments for controlling crime by limiting the general public’s access to firearms. The theory is that people buy guns that are legal here, ship them to Mexico and sell them to drug cartels, and have a major impact on Mexico’s crime rate. With the money those organizations have they could ship in whole boat loads of AKs more simply… The dishonesty of the argument is not surprising. It joins a long list of similarly dishonest arguments from those who would take away the public’s right to be armed…

We can easily understand Mexico's reasons for preferring the 90% number to the more accurate 17%. Mexico does not want to openly discuss the many other sources of advanced weapons being used by the drug cartels. Thousands of advanced weapons and tons of military equipment are stolen from its own military and state police. Weapons are smuggled across its southern borders from Guatemala and by boats landing on its 8,000 miles of coastline, weapons that often originate in Venezuela, Colombia, and Nicaragua, or from purchases in Eastern Europe. But it is easier for a Mexican politician to blame the U.S. than to explain his own government’s failure to police its borders, its ports of entry and its military installations. Did the Mexican ambassador mention that over 100,000 soldiers have deserted the Mexican army in the past seven years and that many of them took their weapons and joined the cartels? …

The Associated Press was given access to a secure Mexican facility designed to keep confiscated guns from getting back onto the streets. It's more likely that the Mexican government doesn' want these firearms traced back to its own armories.)

Posted by: CERT8 | June 18, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

The underlying problem - NRA gun nuts.
No one needs an AK-47 to hunt rabbits or deer. For home defense? A double barrel 12 gauge shotgun is about as formidable as anything in that situation.
The AK-47 gun nuts are simply immature "adults" who like to feel macho.

Posted by: lufrank1 | June 18, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

This piece is seriously misleading.

Publicly available data from BATFE: Only 17% of firearms seized by the Mexican authorities are submitted for U.S. tracing. The remainder are not submitted because it's clear they did not originate from U.S. civilian gun sales. Not surprisingly, the large majority of the small subset of firearms that appear from their serial numbering, markings, or model to be from the U.S. are, indeed, from the U.S.

There are some other glaring indications that the writer is unfamiliar with basic firearms technology. "Assault style" weapons is an entirely undefined term that apparently encompasses both legal semiautomatic rifles and illegal machineguns. And rifles like the semiautomatic AR-15 are neither "high caliber" nor "high powered" - a typical deer rifle fires a larger and heavier round, and has a lot more stopping power than a .223/5.56mm AR-15. In fact, several states prohibit deer hunting with rounds as small and underpowered as the .223/5.56mm, because of concerns that they're likely to merely wound rather than cleanly kill large game.

Perhaps the headline that SHOULD have been written about the GAO report is "Nearly 85% of weapons used by the Mexican drug cartels come from outside the U.S." with a sub-heading "80% of seized U.S.-origin guns are not 'assault weapon style' firearms."

Posted by: zippypinhead1 | June 18, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I am sure glad to see that there are so many concerned individual looking out after the drug cartels right to keep and bear arms in Mexico. It would be a shame if the US made some effort to stop the illegal trafficking in guns to this group of people. After all we have a Constitution that guarantees the rights of Mexican Drug cartels. All concerned citizens should get behind this effort to protect the Mexican citizen's rights. First they will cut off the illegal flow arms to foreign countries and then ( fill in the scary consequence yourself).

Posted by: | June 18, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

It is funny the bubble that some people seem to live in. It is not that easy for the agencies to stop every gun from getting across the border. This is not CSI, with the 2 minute DNA test, 5 second fingerprint analysis, or the amazing fingerprint lift off a firearm that was burned and then submerged in water for a year. While there may not be as much inter agency work as we would like, they are working well UNDER GUIDELINES to stop this. Unfortunately, there are many regulations that stop both agencies from doing what is necessary to completely stop the movement of these weapons. If you want these regulations to change, good luck. if they do change to stop all weapons, you will see several freedoms of your own instantly vanish.

Posted by: capsfan55 | June 18, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

87% is unrealistic. Are they labeled "Shipped and Delivered from the USA?" Mexico doesn't even know what happened in their Country, how can they know anything about where illegal weapons enter the Country?

They may have been manufactured in the USA, but Americans are not the ones delivering them..... and I say that with the same degree of certainty that they can claim 87% of them are shipped out of the USA... I used the same data collection method.

Posted by: mlimberg | June 18, 2009 4:33 PM | Report abuse

The Mexicans are crazy if they think Americans will do anything to restrict guns. The right to do anything we want with guns is in our testicles and the lizard part of our brains and must not be restricted!

Posted by: evelyn911 | June 18, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Guess what..

100% of the illegal Mexicans in the US come from Mexico...

Stop sending us your illegals and we'll stop sending you our guns...

Posted by: kbalderson | June 19, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

Misleading headline - no surprise!

Well hidden (in plain sight) in the article, the comment made is that
"... data that approximates 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and submitted to the U.S. for tracing in the last five years came from the U.S."

What is important - and generally glossed over - is the word 'SUBMITTED'. Which means that only a sample portion of seized weapons are given to ATFE for tracing. Of course, the weapons turned over to ATFE for tracing are the weapons that Mexico can already surmise as mostly likely having come from the U.S. - or at least from a U.S. source (read U.S. government).

Even the ATFE states that the majority of weapons seized by Mexico are not from the U.S.

Posted by: dbreh1 | June 19, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I read the report. Remember, GAO is given missions by Congress, usually the leader of the inquiring committee, in this case that great defender of firearms rights, Elliot Engel.
If you go to the appendix 3, DHS officials "question" GAO's conclusion, and "DHS officials believe the 87 percent statistic is misleading as the reference should include the number of weapons that could not be traced (i.e., out of approximately 30,000 weapons seized in Mexico, approximately 4,000 could be traced and 87 percent of those originated in the United States."
Naturally, the GAO people "disagree."
Dang it, can't ONE reporter actually READ these "reports" and suss the numbers? What about the language problem? What about the fact that the Mexican ARMY seizes all these weapons and they can't find four or five smart guys that can fill out the forms in English? Complete bovine excreta, which makes me wonder no more about the quality of government we deserve.

Posted by: daskinner | June 19, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

If "guns flow south thanks to U.S.," why don't they flow north as well? Why don't we hear about rampant gun violence in Canada? Maybe Mexico is the problem.

Posted by: erikshays | June 20, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

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