The right-wing media and gun lobby effort to convince people U.S. guns aren't arming Mexican cartels didn't seem like it could get less credible after self appointed arms trafficking expert Chuck Norris got into the mix. But then last night, Tom Stilson, a blogger at Andrew Breitbart's Big Government, decided to pen a hit job suggesting the "U.S. government may be primary suppliers of cartel weapons."
The rhetoric Stilson uses at Big Government is in the same vein as other previous attacks against the State Department and Hillary Clinton, all of which are related to the rampant and often conspiratorial attacks related to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) failed Fast and Furious operation (generally aimed at The Department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder).
Stilson's case is almost exclusively built around the basic fact that the U.S. exports guns to the Mexican military and police as well as other Latin American national military forces. These governments have extensive problems with corruption that certainly leads to lost and stolen weapons. Since U.S. arms exports are approved by the State Department, Stilson asserts that the State Department is broadly responsible for arming the cartels and insinuating that it might have been "premeditated."
Beyond expressing generalities about U.S. arms exports and Mexican government corruption, Stilson offers little direct evidence to support his claims. Stilson cites only one unconfirmed report of U.S. arms sales that might have been directed to a cartel front company. This leads him to erroneously suggest that the ATF could confirm all his assertions about Mexico guns if they just released their data. Stilson:
These statistics imply the State and Defense Departments may very well be the top suppliers of small arms to Mexico's drug cartels and not civilians. Only the information obtained from ATF Firearms Traces will tell. However, those records are not public.
Aggregate ATF statistics on U.S. guns recovered in Mexico have in fact been released to the public. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) asked the ATF about U.S. sales to the Mexican military and other Latin American militaries in a letter sent on June 16th. ATF's response stated that the number of traces to either a foreign firearm dealer/importer or a foreign military in those countries was 346 for 2009-2010. This accounts for around 1% of the total firearms successfully traced that could potentially qualify as State Department-approved exports. It's not at all clear what other data he thinks the ATF is withholding, particularly given National Rifle Association-backed legal restrictions preventing public access to most ATF trace data.
Later, Stilson cites the State Department Blue Lantern program that tries to monitor whether exported weapons are being used as intended:
The Blue Lantern Program involves traces performed by the DDTC to ensure exported military weaponry does not end up with an unauthorized nation or organization. For the Americas, 80% of traces where unauthorized end users were identified involved small arms
This citation is practically meaningless in terms of establishing facts about cartel guns. As Stilson admits, the report doesn't have data on Mexico -- only the Americas. In 2009, the program found only 11 cases where there were "indications of diversion or unauthorized retransfer or re-export." We don't know if any of these cases involved small arms or Mexico.
Stilson concludes with a bit of revisionist history:
After the DOJ and the White House knowingly pursued attempts at new gun control legislation, we are left to ask the question; is this just another case of government stupidity or is this something more premeditated?
In reality, Obama hasn't hasn't prioritized gun control legislation at all.