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June 19, 2009

GAO study on Mexican violence promotes misinformation of firearms trafficking

The General Accounting Office (GAO) of the United States has released a study on firearms trafficking and violence in Mexico.

The report, which NSSF is still reviewing, appears to be rife with error.  Consider the following claim: “According to U.S. and Mexican government officials, these firearms have been increasingly more powerful and lethal in recent years. For example, many of these firearms are high-caliber and high-powered, such as AK and AR-15 type semiautomatic rifles.”

These rifles, of course, are no more “powerful” or “lethal” than any other lawful rifle, and they fire ammunition that is considerably less powerful than other hunting rifles.

The report has also led to a revival of false allegations regarding recovered firearms in Mexico.  As the trade association for the firearms industry, we believe it is important to set the record straight (and separate fact from fiction):

Some 29,000 firearms were recovered in Mexico last year, of which approximately 5,000 were traced to U.S. sources.  That means more than 80 percent of the firearms recovered in Mexico were not traced to the United States. Furthermore, according to the ATF, those firearms traced were originally sold at retail not recently, but on average 14 years earlier. This is completely inconsistent with any notion that a flood of newly purchased firearms are being illegally smuggled over the border into Mexico. And let's not forget, no retail firearms sale can be made in the U.S. until after a criminal background check on the purchaser has been completed.

In recent years as many as 150,000 Mexican soldiers, 17,000 last year alone, defected to go work for the drug cartels — bringing their American-made service-issued firearms with them. It has also been well documented that the drug cartels are illegally smuggling fully automatic firearms, grenades and other weapons into Mexico from South and Central America. Such items are not being purchased at retail firearms stores in the United States.

It should be noted, even the Department of Homeland Security (following a review of the GAO report) found the statistics cited to be misleading. The Department specifically called into question the GAO claim that "87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced over the past 5 years originated in the United States." The DHS responded to this claim by saying, "DHS officials believe that the 87 percent statistic is misleading as the reference should include the number of weapons that could not be traced. Numerous problems with the data collection and sample population render this assertion as unreliable (page 69)."

Although it’s understandable that Mexican authorities and sympathetic American agencies are frustrated with cartel-related violence, it is wrong for anyone to blame the Second Amendment and America’s firearms industry for those problems.

Members of the firearms industry take seriously the criminal acquisition and misuse of their products. This is why our industry supports the Southwest Border Violence Reduction Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Bingaman (D-NM), and will continue to work cooperatively with law enforcement. For nearly a decade, our industry has partnered with the ATF in a national campaign called Don’t Lie for the Other Guy that makes the public aware that it is a serious crime to illegally straw purchase a firearm. The program also helps ATF to educate firearms retailers to be better able to detect and prevent illegal straw purchases. Senior executives from NSSF will be continuing the acclaimed Don’t Lie campaign next week in both the Rio Grande Valley (Texas) and Houston (Texas).

Going through the full GAO report will take some time, but no one should be under any illusions; from what we’ve read so far, facts take a backseat to unfounded allegations and hyperbole.

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