I was glad to read a good post at The PJ Tatler debunking the oft-heard claim that Mexican drug cartels get the majority of their weapons from the US. This lie has been a constant meme at the State Department. Over the past two years, I don't know how many meetings I attended given by "smart" and "well-educated" State Department personnel on how drugs flow north from Mexico and guns flow south from the US. We were shown pictures of guns and told they come from the US. In fact, however, none of the guns shown, not one, was a weapon freely available in the US market, even in the "notorious" gun shows of Texas and Florida.
I remember, in particular, one briefing at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in which the presenter said that M-16s and AK-47s were being sent from the US to Mexico. I remember asking her, "Where were they purchased?" "Gun shows," was the answer. I bet her and the audience that none of us could walk out of the FSI and purchase an M-16 or an AK-47, or any of the other weapons shown on the slides, including heavy machine guns and submachine guns, at a gun show or a gun store. I defied the speaker to buy one. I would go with her to the next gun show out at Dulles, in Virginia, and we would try to buy a fully automatic weapon. She turned down the offer.
I then asked if she knew the definition of an assault rifle. Hem, haw. No, she didn't know the definition. I noted to her that it is virtually impossible to buy an assault rifle in the US; you can buy a "sporterized" version of, say, an AK-47, which looks like an assault rifle, but certainly does not perform like one. Awkward silence. Then she threw out the number "60%." That was the magic number. The ATF had reported that 60% of the weapons confiscated in Mexico came from the US. I was surprised and expressed my doubts, but she was quite insistent on that number.
Well, it just so happened that I had a good friend at ATF (one of the most worthless organizations on the planet), so during the break, I called him. It turns out that this number is the percentage of weapons traced to US sellers from sample batches sent ATF by the Mexican police. The Mexicans seize weapons, and if any "looked like" they might come from the US, then the ones that "most looked like" they might come from the US, went to the ATF for analysis. This was a relatively small sample of weapons, already pre-selected as "perhaps from the US." Of that small and highly unrepresentative sample, the ATF had determined that 60% might have come from the US. The actual total number of weapons from the US was "very small," he told me. "Any machine guns?" I asked. He was not aware of any, and said they were almost all hand guns and sport rifles. No matter. A few days later the Secretary of State had used the 60% number, and the President and other administration spokesmen, including the media, continued to inflate it. That tied in with calls to reinstitute the Clinton ban on "assault weapons." There, of course, was no Clinton ban on assault weapons, it was a ban on weapons that looked like assault weapons. Real assault weapons, by the way, have been banned since about 1935.
Having worked in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, I can tell you the guns are not coming from the US (except, of course, for the ones the ATF has shipped south as part of the most idiotic "sting" operation in history--a topic for another day.) They come mostly from Asia, Eastern Europe--including Russia and Ukraine--and from stocks of older weapons held in Central America from years of warfare, and the overwhelming majority of those are of Soviet/Russian/Chinese design and fabrication.