The Corner

The Hill’s Ridiculous ATF Story

Here’s the lede:

Nearly 70 percent of all guns found in Mexico came from the U.S. over the past four years, according to data released by the federal government on Thursday.

Then a few paragraphs later we learn:

Gun-rights advocates say the numbers do not accurately reflect the true number of guns found in Mexico, which they argue is much higher. But instead, the ATF’s data reflect only the number of guns that were submitted for traces. Some gun advocates in the U.S. have argued further that Democrats try to use the inflated numbers to make their case for stricter gun laws.

But groups in favor of curbing illegal guns look at the ATF’s numbers as an accurate reflection of the U.S.’s largely invisible role in the bloody drug violence that has plagued Mexico for the past five years and resulted in the killing of more than 47,000 people.

Actually, of course, it isn’t just a matter of what people of different political perspectives “argue.” This is an empirical issue: Do Mexican authorities hand over every single gun they find to the U.S., in which case the 70 percent number could be incredibly damning? Or do they submit guns only in certain circumstances, such as when they already have reason to believe a gun came from the U.S., in which case the number is basically meaningless?

In fact, the latter is the truth. From the ATF’s new data release:

Firearms selected for tracing are not chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes. The firearms selected do not constitute a random sample and should not be considered representative of the larger universe of firearms used by criminals, or any subset of that universe.

And Katie Pavlich says that most of the Mexican crime guns that are traced to the U.S. made their way to Mexico through government-to-government sales, not illegal activity.

This isn’t to say that there’s no gun-running problem. There is one. But it’s hard to tell what proportion of Mexican crime guns come from illegal U.S. sources, and it’s almost certainly well shy of 70 percent.

One a side note, kudos to the AP for a good story on the new information. It even notes that the proportion of traced guns found to have U.S. sources has declined in recent years, from 90 to 70 percent, as Mexican authorities have shared more information with the U.S. In particular, the Mexican government provided a data dump in 2009 that resulted in more than 43,000 traces, according to the ATF.


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