Michael's Dispatches

American Guns and Mexicans

06 April 2009

It would appear that the Mexico situation carries enough emotional potential – in North America – to dwarf anything we saw on Iraq.  Afghanistan is more like a martial metronome, or a software program that’s running in the background; we only notice when it crashes.

Mexico, however…

It looks like anyone who steps into the Mexico fray might as well jump onto the back of an angry bull.  I published a few documents/articles lately, mostly without comment, which caused a small uproar.  In fact, it appears that FOX responded to the uproar with its own story.  Many people, who reflexively expurgated words that did not suit their trained palettes, immediately embraced, uncritically, the FOX report which apparently tasted better.  Some people even demanded apologies from me for – I’m not exactly sure for what.  I am very good at apologizing when I do something wrong, but there has been zero cause for apology lately.  When it comes to the issue of guns to Mexico, the jury has not convened, and so it can hardly be out.  I will treat Mexico the same way I treated Iraq:  Listen to everyone; trust nothing; draw independent conclusions.

In any case, I re-published this story from FOX, which many people swallowed without chewing.  Two journalists contacted me from the San Antonio Express-News; Sig Christenson and Todd Bensman.  I’ve known Sig since 2006, and know him to be a respected and experienced war correspondent.  Sig introduced Mr. Bensman, saying Mr. Bensman had conducted research on the guns to Mexico issue.  Mr. Bensman took sharp issue with the FOX rebuttal.

The FOX rebuttal:
The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S.

 

Mr. Todd Bensman’s rebuttal to the FOX rebuttal:

The notion that 90 percent of the guns recovered from Mexican cartels can be traced to US retailers derives from hard ATF trace statistics. The majority of the recovered guns that are traced - not all are - have been traced to American retailers, unless the ATF is just making it all up, and no one has even alleged such a thing.

Those stats, combined with interviews with top law enforcement officials and field agents, and backed by court records and interviews with former cartel gunmen who knew how procurement worked, provide what seems to be a very strong, if not insurmountable, indication of where most of all the other UNtraced guns also come from. There are lots of good reasons why not all seized guns in Mexico are traced. I won't get into that here. But what this Fox news reporter did was to definitively conclude, with no good indicators at the ready, that the untraced guns were NOT from the U.S. He reached this conclusion by doing some simple math, not extensive interviewing of every conceivable human resource involved in the trade, as we at the Express-News did for many months.

You could say no one really knows for certain where the UNtraceable portion of the seized guns are coming from, although the Fox reporter chose to leap much farther. But when I do my reporting and the ATF speaks before congress, the message is only about the traced guns, which, together with everything else that is known about the trade from court records, investigators, gun store owners and cartel insiders who know how they get their weapons, are an indicator about a bunch of the rest of them.

The Fox news reporter didn't do that. He said the untraced guns were NOT from the U.S. Then offered as proof one of the most minuscule slivers of the total seizure take: some military weapons that came from Guatemala. It's the height of intellectual dishonesty- and terrible analytical thinking - to lump this tiny fraction of military weapons in with the much larger UNtraced group of firearms and call them the same, that they came from Israel and China. That's what this Fox reporter did and to someone knowledgeable like me shows how horribly he was manipulated.

With regard to the untraced weapons, it is more fair than not for Mexican and American law enforcement, based on the tracing results we do have, to reach a reasonable presumption that the UNtraced guns also would be traced to the U.S. and not anywhere else. The military stuff did come from somewhere else but these two groups are not the same, as the Fox reporter and gun advocates are trying to say.

There's one last rather immovable fact that presents a big problem for gun advocates who wish to cast doubt on where the traces lead, and my newspaper put it on our front page this week: It is that 100 percent of the 383 of guns that were able to be traced from the largest seizure in Mexican history, the one last November in Reynosa, were traced to American licensed dealers in eight U.S. states. Pretty tough to get around that one if you're trying to argue that Mexican cartel guns aren't coming from the US. Although the other 150 or so firearms from that stash were not traced - we don't know why - I would wager a week's salary that most of the remainder, if they ever were to be traced, also would come back to US retailers.

This is the story that ran Tuesday where I scooped that all of the traced weapons from the massive - and notorious- Reynosa seizure came from eight US states.

And here is the series.


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