On Friday, America's Newsroom hosted National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre to discuss an NRA lawsuit that challenges a rule requiring gun dealers along the southwest border to report purchases of two or more rifles, like AK-47s. LaPierre only spoke briefly about the lawsuit and instead used most his appearance to push the myth that America is not a significant source of firearms for Mexican cartels.
The facts on U.S. guns going to Mexico are straight forward. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) has seized more 10,000 firearms and more then 1.1. million rounds of ammunition headed to the southwest border since 2006. On the Mexican side of the border, 20,504 or 70 percent of the total firearms seized and submitted for tracing in the last two years were from the United States. Undeterred by the facts LaPierre continues to push the idea that U.S. guns play a minimal role in arming Mexican cartels.
LaPierre began by suggesting that State Department cables, released by Wikileaks, support his theory:
LAPIERRE: Everyone now admits the drug cartels in Mexico are getting their guns from Russia, China, defections from the Mexican army, the international black market and largely through Central America. The Wikileaks cables from our own State Department prove that. They went to Congress [Crosstalk]
ALISYN CAMEROTA: So are you saying that no semiautomatic guns from the U.S. and from the southwest border are falling into the hands of Mexican criminals?
LAPIERRE: There may be a small time operator coming in, trying to break the law, they ought to be prosecuted. But our own State Department cables say the Mexican drug cartels are not getting their guns from the U.S., they're getting from Central America. They're not getting them from the U.S. dealers.
One State Department briefing document released by Wikileaks did suggest Central America was a large source of heavy armaments that are not available to civilians in the United States.
But that document also says that the vast majority of handguns and many assault rifles used by the Mexican cartels enter Mexico from the United States. It also lists two guns available in the U.S. as being increasingly in demand by cartels. The .50 caliber Barret sniper rifles and FN Five-seven pistols also known as "cop killers" in Mexico.
Another Wikileaks document cited by gun lobby allies as evidence of cartel guns not coming from the U.S. says the exact opposite. In an unclassified leaked cable, a State Department official makes the case that there are misunderstandings regarding the structure of U.S. gun trafficking to Mexico, but also indicates the author's belief that U.S. guns are playing a significant role in arming the cartels:
Myth: An Iron Highway of Weapons Flows from the U.S.
(SBU) The Mexican Attorney General's office (PGR) is quick to report that since the start of the Calderon administration in December 2006, Mexico security forces have seized 83,566 weapons. The sheer magnitude of weapons, as well as the general acceptance that most come from U.S sources, suggests that there is an "Iron Highway" of weapons streaming across the border in identifiable patterns that make interdiction easy. Rather, it appears there maybe [sic] thousands of small streams.
Myth: The DTOs [Drug Trafficking Organizations] are Mostly Responsible
(SBU) While DTOs are the largest consumer of illegal fire arms in Mexico, they are not the primary trafficking agents of weapons going south from the United States. ATF officials assess that, instead, straw purchasers buy small quantities of weapons at pawn shops, gun shows, and fully licensed firearm dealers (FFL) in the United States, illegally transport one to five weapons across the border, and sell them independently to the DTOs. They do not work directly for the organized criminal groups.
The ATF's trace data from the last two years found that only 346 guns, roughly 1 percent of the total amount of guns traced were determined to be from any country besides the United States. At a hearing by the Democrats on the House Oversight Committee global arms trade expert Colby Goodman testified that the current evidence suggests that the U.S. domestic gun market is a large source of cartels guns:
Myth 2: The overwhelming majority of the U.S. origin firearms seized in Mexico come from U.S. government transfers to the Mexican military or police
While it's possible although not probable when more data becomes available that U.S. government approved exports will have a larger role, it is clear from the current data and evidence that Mexican organized crime organizations are obtaining many of their firearms from the U.S. domestic gun market.
Given the increased data and evidence on U.S. firearms in Mexico, it is abundantly clear that U.S. origin firearms have and are playing a significant role in the violence in Mexico.
The NRA's lawsuit challenging the ATF's authority to collect information on multiple rifle purchases along the border doesn't appear to be on any stronger factual footing. The ATF has collected the same information on multiple handgun purchases for decades and the authorizing statue gives the Attorney General authority to ask gun dealers to "report whatever part of such records as he 'may specify'."
Reached for commented Robyn Thomas executive director of the Legal Community Against Violence said:
This lawsuit, like many others the NRA files, is meritless, and should be dismissed by the courts. Congress has empowered ATF to demand records from federally licensed firearms dealers as part of their existing authority, so the new rule does not require legislative approval. This lawsuit has no legal foundation and is clearly an attempt to harass and obstruct even this basic effort to prevent the trafficking of illegal firearms to Mexico.