Michael's Dispatches

Truth or Dare: Guns to Mexico


29 March 2009

How many of the guns in Mexico are coming from the United States?  Good question that will prove extremely contentious if the number of weapons proves to be high.

This transcript from CBS is from an interview between Bob Schieffer and President Obama.  It does not answer the question, but definitely poses it:


16:53:23:00     Let me ask you about (COUGHING) something closer to home and that is Mexico.  You talked about sending more aid to the Mexican government.  But things down there are really serious, as you well know.  It's my understanding that 90 percent of the guns that they're getting down in Mexico are coming from the United States.  We don't seem to be doing a very good job of-- cutting off the gun flow.  Do you need any kind of-- legislative help on that front?  Have you, for example, thought about-- asking Congress to reinstate the-- ban on assault weapons?


16:53:53:00     Well, I think the main thing we need is better enforcement.  And so-- this week we put forward a comprehensive initiative to assist those-- border regions that are being threatened by-- by these drug cartels-- to provide assistance to the Mexican government to make sure that on our side of the border we've got more personnel, more surveillance equipment.

Please click to view the entire interview.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    John · 12 years ago
    I still don't understand why everyone keeps fronting this number of 90%. Considering how hard it is to find fully automatic weapons here, and how valuable they are in the states where they are allowed, why would anyone "export" them to Mexico? 90% of what number? 90% of what they confiscate near the border? 90% of all weapons in Mexico? 90% of anything is suspicious. 90% of all statistics are made up.

    Anyone who's asked for pictures or serial #'s of any of these supposedly "American" guns, Mexico isn't giving them up, so nobody can verify any of this information.

    What's more likely: Mexican or other south of the border military arms are being stolen/sold to drug dealers in a country with a huge drug problem and huge amount of corruption, or a vast conspiracy between American gun manufacturers, American gun shops, and American nationals to smuggle them across the border?

    Michael, i've been a big fan of your work, and have bought all of your books, but i'm not a big fan of where these "OMG ALL THE GUNS IN MEXICO ARE FROM THE US!!!" posts.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Cecil Trotter · 12 years ago
    Since when did the simple act of posing a question legitimize the subject of a question? There have been for the past 7 and a half years questions posed on US involvement in the 9/11 attacks, does that make the accusations legitimate?

    How about some serious question from you Mr Yon, like who came up with this figure of 90%? And how did they arrive at this figure? How accurate is it? What is the agenda of those pushing this figure?

    How about some serious reporting on your part Mr Yon instead of continuing to regurgitate these figures being pushed by the mainstream media and the Obama administration?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CK · 12 years ago
    http://campaignspot.nationalreview.com/post/?q=ZjY0ZTJhYTdiYjg4Y2E2Yjk5M2E5ZDdhZjE MzlhYTc=

    I think Jim Geraghty sums up the issue pretty good. Notice the excerpt from the LA Times.

    A lot more people would be more willing to support your point, Mr. Yon, if they did not believe the people in the Administration generally subscribed to the banning guns viewpoint. Even Obama has said he supports the gun ownership primarily because he will not have enough votes to restrict them - hardily a reassuring view from the subject of the interview.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill R · 12 years ago
    The vast majority of people have been advocating the closure of the border for years but the government won't listen. If we closed the border, the flow of guns wil slow to a trickle if it's true at all. That will take care of the illegal immigrant problem too. The bottom line is that American gun laws should not be designed to accommodate a foreign country. The second amendment ensures our right to keep and bear arms and that right cannot be taken away in response to foreign problems.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TCS · 12 years ago
    Welcome to the Echo Chamber, where reporting is all about what other reporters are saying.

    "I heard from Michael Yon that the number is 90%." Where did he get that number? Bob Schieffer. Where did Bob Schieffer get that number? It's "his understanding" (which almost certainly means "that's what I heard in other news reports")

    You may wonder, "how does any information even enter the echo chamber?" It seems mostly through press conferences and interviews with and press releases by people who at best are fallible humans subject to accidental misstatements and at worst have agendas and are willing to twist the facts to suit them. That "information" is then quoted as-is by the reporters and enters the endless regurgitation loop. It meets their standards of accuracy because it's all true -- in the sense that they're reporting "so-and so said this" and (usually) it's at least true that they did say that. Rarely does anyone do the work to figure out if these STETEMENTS are actually true -- it's enough that it's true that someone said it.

    It saddens me that Mike has now seemingly bought into this mentality by his response to this whole thing, complaining that he's been misquoted. Why, his reporting was that McCaffrey said it, and by gum McCaffrey did say it, so what are we all complaining about?!

    What we're complaining about is that details matter. Truth matters. If this is an important issue, isn't it important that we understand the reality of what is happening? How can we make good decisions based on bad information? (Hey, anyone remember how we got into the Iraq war? Wasn't it based on bad information about what weapons they had?)

    I'm really straining to give the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this is just carelessness on the part of McCaffrey, etc, but it is straining the bounds of that to assume that a retired general doesn't know much about weapons. And we have statements like his "[...] interdicting the huge US flow of automatic weapons and laundered drug money back south. (26,000 weapons seized last year.)", which seems carefully designed to give the reader the impression that "26,000 automatic weapons were seized last year".

    Assuming for a moment the 26,000 number of "weapons" is accurate, the percentage of those that were fully automatic is probably nearly zero. More likely these numbers probably mirror what is sold in the US: mostly handguns, a smaller number of civilian-grade semi-automatics (so-called "assault weapons"), other rifles, shotguns, etc. (There ARE probably a handful of fully automatics in that number -- I wouldn't be shocked if, eg, that the van full of MP5s stolen from the FBI years back wound up in Mexico... but that doesn't really provide much in the way of policy guidance, does it?)

    Yes, it's undesirable if the gangs are getting 26000 guns of any description. Or 26 guns. But if the real problem is indeed grenades and machine guns and other military hardware, as we're told, then handguns from the US is a secondary problem. How can we even begin to rationally discuss solutions when we can't get clear information about what the problem is?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alcibiades · 12 years ago
    I would also point out that the Mexican authorities may not give an honest accounting of serial numbers. They may handpick some known U.S. guns and claim it as a "random sampling".
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TCS · 12 years ago
    Also, in response to the last dispatch someone trotted out the old "you can buy books on amazon that will tell you how to convert a semi-automatic" myth. Yes, you can buy books that claim to tell you that. It's also somewhat true that you can somewhat easily convert a semiautomatic to meet the LEGAL definition of fully automatic (fires more than once per trigger pull) and get you in big trouble.

    What you don't get, however, is a USEFUL automatic. Those have other important qualities (like NOT firing when the trigger is NOT pulled!). A real conversion is a significant job, requiring technical skill and in many cases expensive machine tools. What those stupid books would actually get you is something that's probably more dangerous to you than anyone else. (To the publishers of these shady books, the great thing is that nobody is ever going to complain if they try it and the results were crap -- because to say they tried is to admit to a felony!) And think about it: if it was easy as buying a book, these conversions would be very common in crimes, no?

    But that turns turns out not to be true. For example, go look up the testimony of one Det. Jimmy Trahin of LAPD's Firearms Unit before California's legislature during the hearings on passing an "assault weapons" ban there:

    "In my 12 years within the [LAPD Firearms Unit], considering the enormous amount of firearms we have taken into custody, and that's over 50,000 I would say, and these include the ones from hard-core gangs and from the drug dealers, our unit has NEVER, EVER, had ONE AK47 converted, one Ruger mini-14 converted. An HK91/9 , never converted. An AR180, never converted. [...]"

    While crimes involving automatic weapons in the US are very commonly depicted in US movies and TV, and oftentimes the media misreports crimes as having been committed with "assault rifles" or "machine guns" which were not, the reality is that they are EXCEEDINGLY rare. One well-known real example is the 1997 North Hollywood Shootout -- which was so shocking precisely because it was so unusual to see a movie-type situation play out in real life! (at least one of those guns was an actual honest-to-goodness illegal conversion - which likely made it the first LAPD ever saw, and they remain rare to this day). And that's IT! I can think of ONE example! (again I'm sure you can find stories that "prove me wrong", but then we're back to the low quality of reporting... every time I've heard about these in my area, checking with feet-on-the-street PD sources it turns out that the reporter and/or the police spokesperson is clueless or worse, and it was really some civilian-grade copy. Even those cases are a tiny percentage of crimes involving guns. It's hard to find good data, but by any account it's single-digit percentages. One source (Kopel), based on government crime data, puts rifles of any type at under 4%, and only .8% (POINT eight -- less than 1%!) of guns used in homicides as firing military-caliber rifle rounds - and not all of those would be even SEMI-automatics, as bolt-actions that fire those are plenty common!

    And as for LEGALLY OWNED automatic weapons used in crime, one of the very rare examples I can think of was by a POLICE OFFICER! (Roger Waller, Dayton, OH PD used one registered to him to murder of a drug dealer)

    Obvious question: if you're a Mexican drug gang member and you want an AK47, where do you go? Do you smuggle a semiauto civilian gun in from the US and do a conversion job on it, which if done badly will be dangerous to you and if done well will take some time and skill, or do you get the real thing ready-to-go from your South American or corrupt Mexican gov't contacts, and much more cheaply at that? (And even you insist on getting them from the US, where do you get the conversion parts? Again the easy answer is not the US... and the more likely sources are going to tell you "you're crazy, let us just get you the whole gun, it's much less trouble"...)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    JohnF · 12 years ago
    If all it took to stop something was to make it illegal, why don't we make unauthorized immigration from Mexico illegal? Or for that matter, why doesn't Mexico make drugs illegal? Hell, why don't we just make all guns illegal, it works for drugs, right?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AO · 12 years ago
    This is from the statement of William Hoover, Assitant Director of Field Ops, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives & Anthony Placido, Assistant Adminstrator for Intelligence Div. DEA to the U.S. Senateƒ??s Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime & Drugs

    ƒ??In fact, according to ATFƒ??s National Tracing Center, 90 percent of the weapons that could be traced were determined to have originated from various sources within the U.S.ƒ?

    To read the whole statement:
    http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/pubs/cngrtest/ct0 1709.pdf
  • This commment is unpublished.
    TCS · 12 years ago
    "90% of the weapons THAT COULD BE TRACED" may be a VERY DIFFERENT number than "90%". What percentage could not be traced? If only half the weapons could be traced, the percentage that are known to come from the US would be only 45%. If only 10% can be traced, the US percentage would be 9%. See, this is a statistic that sounds impressive but doesn't actually SAY anything. But the echo chamber (in the form of Bob Schieffer, or whoever before him, turns that into "90% of guns come from the US" and that becomes the "truth" as reporters report on what's being reported).

    The US has very good tracing capabilities, so it doesn't surprise me that of TRACEABLE guns, the US is disproportionately represented. This is "selection bias", specifically it's a form of self-selection. Imagine you conduct a telephone survey, and 90% of respondents say they like answering telephone surveys. So, what percentage of people like answering the phone? Surely NOT 90% -- your survey is biased because people who don't like answering surveys, didn't! That's exactly what's going on here. Just as you got a disproportionately large percentage of survey responses from those who don't mind being surveyed, any study of the sources of guns will disproportionately target countries with good tracing systems!

    Here's another quote from Hoover: "The investigations we have, that we see, for firearms flowing across the border don't show us individuals taking thousands of guns a day or at a time flowing into Mexico."
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MObl · 12 years ago


    "Firearms are routinely being transported from the U.S. into Mexico in violation of both U.S. and Mexican law. In fact, according to ATFƒ??s National Tracing Center, 90 percent of the weapons that could be traced were determined to have originated from various sources within the U.S."

    So 90% of the weapons "That could be traced" come from the US. As for the balance of those that cannot (and those that the Mexican government determines should not) be traced? Well, exploring that question doesn't exactly suit the Obama Administration's political purposes.

    How many weapons are making their way from the corrupt Mexican police and army into the hands of narco-terrorists? How many are being smuggled in from Columbia and Venezuela?

    Does anybody think they can get hold of grenades, full autos and RPGs over at Billy Bob's Rod and Gun in El Paso?

    I think BATF is full of sh*t.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Unix-Jedi · 12 years ago
    But we're too stupid to make the obvious connections. Right? Or only stupid if we make a connection that you don't want to admit to?

    "How many of the guns in Mexico are coming from the United States?"

    Before last week, I'd have said that you're the investigative journalist, you tell us.
    After last week, I'd be certain that your answer would be ill-researched, off the cuff, and emotional, and no matter what you actually said, you'd whine that you'd been misunderstood when you were directly quoted.

    "Good question that will prove extremely contentious if the number of weapons proves to be high."

    It's already contentious, due to dishonesty - including your own! at insisting that you've been misunderstood and misquoted - shifting the subjects around, and moving goalposts. We must do something! Something! In the USA about guns being smuggled by Mexican criminal cartels from India, China, Pakistan! Quick! Pass a law! Pass a law forbidding corruption in the Mexican government while we're at it!

    What's not really in contention is are the .50 BMG belt-fed machine guns being used today, the squad automatics, the LAW and RPGs that are in use, and the cases of grenades coming from the legal market in the US? If not, perhaps the person asking "Where are they coming from" is really misinformed and or dishonest. Since I'm positive that those are not available, are not being bought at "gun shows", and are not being bought legally in the US via the means available to me, that ["How many guns.. from US] is an incredibly stupid question to ask. Your webmaster insisted that you knew the difference, and certainly knew that the *grenades* weren't bought in a gunstore in the US - yet you've failed to either support that contention or deny it.

    You're dodging the ramifications of your last attack on legal gun owners in the US, an attack that occurred at the same time as others who definitely wish to further repress gun ownership in the US. The dodging and taunting is not becoming, it's not proving your point, and this latest passive-aggressive tact demeans you more.

    How about we talk about the heavy weaponry that there's realistically no legal way to get in the US that's made it's way to Mexico? Via smuggling from other countries besides the USA, via our quite generous selling to the Mexican Army and government?

    I have no doubt that many of the weapons come from the US. Right from the US government to the Mexican government. Yet I don't think that's what you're actually simpering about fixing. It's certainly not what Obama, Holder, Feinstein and the rest are.

    You can throw these pieces out, and avoid dealing with your credibility problem that you're not facing based on your McCaffrey on Mexico post. The more taunts you throw, the more you insist that we "gun fanatics" are illiterate, the harder it's going to be to sell to your main audience in the future. It's always a mistake to publicly sneer and smear your audience. I think you'll come to realize this.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kev · 12 years ago
    Honestly.....If I'm a drug cartel fighting for control of routes for drugs into the United States, that means I have somehow successfully delivered large quantities of illegal products from South America to the southern border of the United States. Really.......how difficult would it be to move a a truck load of fully automatic rifles from South America to the Mexican border.

    Jeez.....Let's understand something. CNN is referred to as the Communist News Network for a reason....They're just another mouthpiece for the Uninformed, non-firearm owning gun-ban crowd. They are just using this as an excuse to push their agenda further, unfounded as it is.

    Are some guns crossing from the US to Mexico? Probably. Is the Private gun market in the United States supplying the Mexican drug cartels with all of their weapons? I really doubt it.....

    Let's wake up, folks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AO · 12 years ago
    I am very aware that the statement says of the weapons we can trace. I was merely posting the "where" of where people are getting the 90% figure. You asked, I provided an answer.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ja · 12 years ago
    Alright Michael, I respect you most hardily, and supremely, but seriously. This is a problem which is more a matter of common sense.

    You know you've been with guns since growing up.

    So maybe you can tell me where to get LAWs, RPGs, .50 cal machine guns, etc?

    Look, Michael, the fact remains that this is an obvious supply problem from mostly, OTHER countries. Yes, we have to analyze what guns from our country are going south - however, seeing as civilians can't get heavy weaponry or even fully automatic weapons in the US, why is it that people assume we are destabilizing Mexico? And if it was us - wouldn't this call for a reason to seal the border?

    This is pure hearsay - the Mexican government has refused to give the i.d. numbers of the weapons involved in the crimes. They would much rather like to blame the United States (at the same time using it as a depository of its people) than actually fix their interdiction problems. You travel Yon - you know loads of South American countries were in revolution in the 80s, and such. Take a guess where their weapons are coming from.

    If anything, I know US suppliers for the most part aren't contributing to the arms supply. My cousin has two or three full auto AK-47s. Take a guess if they are legal or not, and where he bought em from (he used to be a gangster, so...)

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