[ I admit that this article is very long, about 1,400 words, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. It took about 9 hours of research and writing to put together. ]
For the past few months the media has been awash with articles discussing a new disease spreading across the USA-Mexican border, destroying lives and fueling the drug trade. The pathogen is the infamous “assault rifle” and the reason for the spread of arms is lax American gun laws, or so the American public is being told again and again.
Finally two reporters from Fox News, William La Jeunesse and Maxim Lott, took the time to look into the figures behind recent politicians’ speeches and discovered that only 13% of firearms confiscated in Mexico were of US origin. While it was a breath of fresh air to read an honest piece of journalism, I was still not satisfied with the number. It seemed incredible that an organization that is able to smuggle up to $48.4 billion [PDF link] worth of drugs into Mexico and from there export them to the US with apparent impunity are forced to purchase 13% of their arms from US gun stores selling civilian legal semi-automatic firearms, rather than the global arms black-market where just about anything can be purchased if you have the money.
To get to the bottom of this I engaged in some serious research and ended up reading up to 100 press releases and documents published by the office of the Procuraduría General de la República (Attorney General of Mexico) and US Government agencies.
What hardware is being found in Mexico?
This photo, taken by a US embassy official last year, shows weapons confiscated by Mexican federal police:
The weapons displayed from left to right are:
M72 LAW : A light anti tank weapon. This rocket launcher is used by the US Army and over 20 other countries. This particular launcher, and others I have seen confiscated by the Mexican police, looks to be one of the pre-1990 versions of the M72. Not able to be purchased by civilians in the United States and are unlikely to be in use by law enforcement.
Fragmentation grenade : Frequently seized by Mexican police. These particular grenades are likely copies of the US Army M67 grenade. Not able to be purchased by civilians in the United States and are unlikely to be in use by law enforcement.
Colt M4 Commando (1) : This fully automatic sub-carbine is not available to civilians and is marketed to military and law enforcement.
M249 Light Machine Gun (1) : The Mexican army uses this weapon. Not available to civilians.
A document entitled “USA-MEXICO FIREARMS SMUGGLING” [PDF link] , published less than two weeks ago list these arms:
On this 28 months of the government, between December 1st 2006 and March 26, 2009, it has been seized 35,943 firearms, out of them 19,801 are long weapons, most of them are assault rifles; 4 millions 772 thousand 517 cartridges and ammunitions; and 2,804 grenades.
It is highlighted the following weapons anti-tank rockets M72 and AT-4, rocket launchers RPG-7, grenade launchers c Caliber 37mm., grenade launcher additional devices caliber 37 and 40 mm, 37 and 40 mm grenades, fragmenting grenades, Barret rifle.50″, and new generation firearms like sub-machinegun and pistol FN Herstal by Belgium, imported by US, caliber 5.7x28mm, “Five-Seven” for their technical characteristics the qualities of its subsonic, tracing and penetrating ammunition able to penetrate Kevlar and Crisat armor, it is also known as “police killer”
M72 LAWs and AT-4 rocket launcher, RPG-7 grenade launchers, MGL (Multiple Grenade Launchers), grenades, sub-machine guns (1), and armor penetrating ammunition (1) are not available to civilians in the United States.
An inert deactivated RPG is the closest thing a US Citizen can get to the real thing.
[ 1: It is possible a small quantity are owned by civilians legally in line with the National Firearms Act. These have to be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and transfers between individuals are regulated. Because the Firearm Owners Protection Act prevents any more of these machine guns are entering the civilian market, they command exorbitant prices far exceeding the price that military, law enforcement or government departments pay. ]
These are all weapons you would expect para-military narco-terrorists to be using. They would have to have been either stolen from the Mexican army/police, stolen from overseas armies or acquired by arms dealers using forged end user certificates and illegally exported to Mexico.
What Hardware are the Mexican Federales reporting?
I have lost count of how many press releases detailing firearms and explosives captured during raids I have read. There are some glaring discrepancies in what they report.
Firstly, the Mexican police seem to have either little understanding of the firearms they are confiscating, or little command of the english language to interpret what they have captured. For example, in this press release from last year, they list this rifle “Un rifle marca Nickel Steel Barrel, matrícula 440236, calibre 30mm” (English: “A rifle brand Nickel Steel Barrel, number 440236, size 30mm”, emphasis mine). The “brand” was obviously read off the barrel. They also regularly name the same type of firearm under varying names. For example MAK-90 Norinco semi-automatic AK-47 clones are sometimes called MAK-90, Mark-90 or MK-90 or just “Norinco”. They do not appear to be able to keep consistent records. The police regularly make many other sloppy errors but I will not list them all.
Secondly, despite the significant desertion of Mexican soldiers who likely took thier M16 rifles with them (150,000 soldiers deserted in the past 6 years out of a force of 183,700 active personal) the Mexicans have kept very quite about M16 rifles being confiscated. I only managed to find evidence of three M16 rifles captured in the past 12 months. This does not make sense considering the vast quantity of these arms almost certainty exist in the hands of Mexican criminals.
Apart from the obviously missing M16s there appear to be very few real assault weapons confiscated. Fragmentation grenades are often found, but grenade launchers, rocket launchers, fully automatic AK-47s, machine guns and sub machine guns are rarely found compared to benign weapons.
Finally, a significant amount of arms confiscated are indeed made in the United States by well known companies such as Remington, Winchester, Mossberg and Ruger but these also happen to be arms that can be legally owned in Mexico. Hunting rifles in non-military calibers such as .22, .25, .270 and .30-30 are often confiscated as are 12 gauge shotguns and .380 ACP pistols. All these can be owned legally in Mexico, although they do require a license. These photos are of “menacing” weaponry that was captured last year:
Antique Winchester Model 06 pump action .22 rifle in front
Note the single shot 12 gauge take-down shotgun (bottom right)
While I did not do a scientific analysis of all the press releases I read, I would say possibly 25% of firearms confiscated by the Mexican police were probably at one point in time legally imported and legally owned. Just like in the United States, criminals steal arms from law abiding citizens. It is quite possible that the Mexican Army, who themselves run the only gun store in Mexico, imported many of these arms.
I suspect the Mexican police are deliberately or unintentionally obscuring the reporting of firearms confiscated. Embarrassing incidents such as the capture weapons that were stolen from the military or police are either reclassified, left off reports or not reported to the public. A significant of the captured weapons that the ATF traced may have been legally exported to Mexico.
While border smuggling or firearms is a serious problem, it is just one symptom of the leaky southern border. I took the number of firearms captured last year that were traced by the BATFE according to Fox News : 3000 ( 6000 / 2) and multiplied that by $1,500 (the approx. cost of an AR-15 rifle). I then compared that the most conservative estimate of illegal drugs imported from Mexico ($13 billion). Because the media like charts I drew this one:
Can you see the bar representing firearms? The chart would have to be very tall to show even a pixel of the firearm bar. Illegal firearm exports are only 0.035% of illegal drug imports from Mexico. What hope is there in stopping such a small quantity of firearms from traversing the border when a torrent of drugs is flowing in the opposite direction?
[ Feel free to reproduce this article on your website or blog, but do not hot link the images, and make sure you attribute me as the author and link back to the web page. I would appreciate you post a link the reproduced article in the comments below. ]
Thanks to Jay for providing some research material.