The oft-claimed statistic that approximately 90 percent of the seized firearms used by Mexico's ultraviolent drug cartels come from the United States is a myth, according to a private intelligence firm.
In a report released today, STRATFOR notes that this widely-held belief stems primarily from a June 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. In its analysis, the GAO found that 87 percent of traceable firearms seized in Mexico came from the United States between 2004 and 2008.
While the firm doesn't discount that American guns play a significant role in Mexican drug violence, it notes that the report's statistics have been misleadingly used and cited in the public. STRATFOR's Scott Stewart explains why using the GAO's 2008 statistics:
According to the GAO report, some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican authorities in 2008. Of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.
This means that the 87 percent figure relates to the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by Mexican authorities or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. In fact, the 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in Mexico in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing. This means that almost 90 percent of the guns seized in Mexico in 2008 were not traced back to the United States.
One reason the Mexican government doesn't submit a significant portion of its seized weapons to the United States for tracing, according to Stewart, is because it reflects badly on the government.