About two-thirds of the weapons recovered by Mexican authorities since 2007 and submitted to U.S. law enforcement for tracing had origins in the United States, according to data released today by the U.S. Department of Justice.
An estimated 68,000 of the more than 99,000 weapons submitted came from the U.S., according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The weapons were either manufactured in this country or were legally imported here and then smuggled into Mexico.
“Since 2007, trace data shows a trend in recovered and submitted crime guns from Mexico shifting from pistols and revolvers to rifles,” the agency said in a prepared statement. “Law enforcement in Mexico now report that certain types of rifles, such as the AK and AR variants with detachable magazines, are used more frequently to commit violent crime by drug trafficking organizations.”
The data is sure to fuel the feud currently raging between the federal government and Second Amendment advocates who strongly dispute the agency’s claims that weapons smuggling is contributing to the carnage in Mexico. More than 50,000 people have died there since President Felipe Calderón initiated his war against organized crime in 2006.
An ATF spokesman said the agency did not break down the data state by state. Texas, however, is one of the four border states where gun sellers are required to report to the agency when they sell two or more long rifles to the same person within a five-day period. Long rifle include guns with a caliber greater than .22 and a detachable magazine clip, such as the AR-15 and the AK-47. Federal officials say the rule is an effort to curb violence in Mexico, but gun sellers filed suit against the agency in August seeking to halt implementation of it. The lawsuit filed by San Antonio-based 10 ring Precision is pending in federal court.
Alice Tripp, the legislative director for the Texas State Rifle Association, the state’s lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association, said she had not seen the ATF numbers, but she doubted the data’s validity. She said that Mexican authorities are knowingly allowing arms to flow through, which she said is a byproduct of that country's corrupt government.
“They are not being smuggled on burros across mountains,” she said. “They are going across bridges. We are talking about a tangible product that is not small. It makes no sense to me if these allegations are true.”
Tripp has previously said she believes the Mexican government is knowingly submitting weapons it knows will only be traced to the U.S., as opposed to those smuggled in from Central America or elsewhere. The reason, she has said, is to inflate the data to make the U.S look more culpable.
Critics of the feds also point to the Operation Fast and Furious scandal — in which federal agents let hundreds of weapons fall into the hands of Mexican drug-cartel operatives — as proof that the Obama administration should not expand gun-control laws.
According to the ATF data, the Mexican government submitted 17,350 weapons in 2007, about 11,840 of which came from the U.S. Those figures almost doubled in 2008, when 21,000 of the 32,100 weapons submitted were traced to the U.S. In 2009 the numbers dipped to 21,555 submitted and 14,376 traced to the U.S. In 2010, the figures dropped again to about 8,300 submitted with 6,404 traced to the U.S.
Last year, though, the figures more than doubled again to 20,335 submitted and 14,500 traced to the U.S.