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US guns fuel Mexico drug war? The politics behind the issue.

A new report shows that 70 percent of confiscated weapons submitted for tracing come from the US, but critics say the figure is politically motivated.

By Staff writer / June 15, 2011

A mannequin is seen dressed in a U.S. Airborne uniform, as weapons are displayed to the media by the Mexican Navy in Mexico City June 9, 2011. According to the Mexican Navy, 204 rifles, 11 guns, 15 hand grenades, uniforms of the Mexican navy and of the US army, over 29,000 cartridges, and over441 pounds of cocaine and were seized in an operation against the Zetas drug cartel in Coahuila and Nuevo Leon in the north of Mexico.

Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters


Mexico City

Who is supplying guns to Mexican drug traffickers?

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The answer has become one of the most polemical in the gun rights debate, with Mexico blaming lax US gun laws and gun rights advocates saying that blame is misplaced.

Statistics are cited. Methodologies are dismissed.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

A new report released this week by US senators has renewed the fight, with valid points coming from both sides of the divide.

The report, issued by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D) of Rhode Island, bases its conclusions on US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) statistics. The report states that of 29,284 arms handed over for tracing by Mexican authorities in 2009-10, some 70 percent came from the US.

The senators conclude that military-style guns have “contributed to Mexico’s dangerous levels of violence,” and that legislation to tighten gun laws, like reinstating the expired Assault Weapons Ban, is in order.

Cherry-picked data?

The ATF's statistic has been controversial since it was first cited two years ago. (At that time the number was even higher, at around 90 percent. It may have dropped now because more guns are getting traced today).

Nonetheless, it only accounts for guns seized in Mexico, and of those, the ones that the Mexican government submits for tracing. Many see that as an incomplete set of data, leading them to dismiss the statistic as inaccurate.

“It is completely misleading. There is a huge population of guns that Mexicans confiscated that they don’t submit to trace to the ATF,” says Robert Farago, the managing editor of the website The Truth about Guns.

Still, it is estimated that about 30 percent of weapons seized in Mexico are submitted for tracing. And whether it is 90 percent or 70 percent that come from the US within that pool, that is still a large number of American guns circulating in Mexico.


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