The belief that the overwhelming majority of firearms used by Mexico's drug cartels come from the United States is a myth, according to the private intelligence firm.
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.
"Such weapons include firearms they identify as coming from their own military or police forces, or guns that they can trace back themselves as being sold through the Mexican Defense Department’s Arms and Ammunition Marketing Division," he writes.
(For more on U.S. arms ending up in Mexico, see "U.S. Needs to Stop Flow of Guns Into Mexico, Experts Say ," from June 2010; American Gun Flow into Mexico Must be Stopped, Lawmakers and Officials Say ," from March 2009; and "An 'Iron River of Guns' Flows South " by John Barham from the June 2008 issue of Security Management.)
STRATFOR's intelligence brief goes on to describe where certain classes of cartel weapons come from geographically, and why globalization and Latin America's black-arms market ensure that cartels will always procure the powerful weaponry they need to ply their trade—even if the U.S. government could prevent American guns from ending up in cartel hands.
"There has clearly been a long and well-documented history of arms smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border," Stewart concludes, "but it is important to recognize that, while the United States is a significant source of certain classes of weapons and ammunition, it is by no means the source of 90 percent of the weapons used by the Mexican cartels, as is commonly asserted."
♦ Photo by Blyzz/Flickr