Response to Washington Post’s Op-Ed Arguing for Tighter U.S. Gun Control to Stop Mexico’s Violence

The first sentence of a Feb. 4 Washington Post Editorial, signed by the paper’s Editorial Board, begins, “Do America’s failed gun policies contribute to the terrible violence in Mexico? Alejandro A. Poire Romero makes a compelling case that the answer is yes.”

It’s an interesting question.  And to answer it with any degree of accuracy depends on how one interprets the premise “America’s failed gun polices.”

If one is referring to gunwalking and/or the non-interdiction tactics highlighted in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive’s fatally flawed Operation Fast and Furious, then the answer is, “yes, the government’s operational polices on curtailing the illegal flow of firearms into Mexico have contributed to the surge of violence in Mexico.” 

However, if one were to read on, it’s clear that the authors are not referring to F&F when they stated, “America’s failed gun polices.” 

In fact, the authors all but absolve F&F from contributing to the rise of violence in Mexico.  They wrote of the operation that it “was a well-intentioned, misguided response to — and not the cause of — the proliferation of illegal guns in Mexico.” 

Yet, even the authors concede that (a) the U.S. government had engaged in similar gunwalking operations in the past under George W. Bush, (b) under F&F “some 2,000 weapons are unaccounted for,” and (c) F&F guns were found on the scene of the 2010 killing of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. 

Does the Editorial Board not see the contradictions here?

First, the ATF has gone on record stating that F&F was not the first time they executed “controlled deliveries” (allowed guns to freely cross the U.S.-Mexico border).  Instead they’ve admitted that there were previous attempts at controlled deliveries that also failed.

A publicized briefing written on Nov. 16, 2007, for Attorney General Michael Mukasey stated, “Of particular importance, ATF has recently worked jointly with Mexico on the first-ever attempt to have a controlled delivery of weapons being smuggled into Mexico by a major arms trafficker.”

It added, “While the first attempts at this controlled delivery have not been successful, the investigation is ongoing, and ATF would like to expand the possibility of such joint investigations and controlled deliveries — since only then will it be possible to investigate an entire smuggling network, rather than arresting simply a single smuggler.”

However, there is reason to believe that gunwalking even preceded 2007.  Notes from top ATF officials disputed the language contained in that particular briefing.

“I am going to ask DOJ to change `first ever.’ … There have been cases in the past where we have walked guns,” ATF official Carson Carroll wrote in an email to ATF headquarters official William Hoover, the assistant director for field operations.

We now have mounting evidence to suggest that the ATF operations that preceded F&F, like Wide Receiver and White Gun also let guns walk into the hands of known Mexican drug cartels.

So, the point is simply that joint DOJ and ATF operations involving controlled deliveries did in fact contribute to the proliferation of illegal guns in Mexico. 

Consequently, the guns that the government let walk have had deadly repercussions, which cuts to the heart of the issue (which is not so much the proliferation of illegal guns but) the upswing in violence.  Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry is dead.  He was likely killed by a firearm that the government let walk across the border. 

Is Agent Terry the only victim? 

Acting ATF Attache in Mexico, Carlos Canino was questioned about the strategies used in Operation Fast and Furious and their long-term implications for the U.S and Mexico.  Here is part of that transcript:

Q.    When you first go the impression that this was part of a strategy to let guns walk into Mexico, what was your reaction to that strategy?

A.    The guys in Mexico will trace those…  I’m beyond angry.  Brian Terry is not the last guy, okay, guys?  Let’s put it out there right now.  Nobody wants to talk about that.  Brain Terry is not the last guy unfortunately…  Unfortunately, there are hundreds of Brian Terrys probably in Mexico…  We the ATF armed the [Sinaloa] cartel.  It is disgusting.

The Editorial Board of the Washington Post should read Mr. Camino’s comments because he didn’t say that gun show loopholes or the lack of an assault weapons ban or lax U.S. gun control laws are responsible for arming the Sinaloa cartel (one of Mexico’s most notorious), he said, “We the ATF armed the cartel.” 

Now, there are other points to be made about the Post’s Op-Ed.  Chris Cox, the executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, does a good job disputing claims made about the number of illegal guns in Mexico that can be traced back to licensed U.S. dealers: 

The Post’s assertion that 70 to 80 percent of traceable guns can be traced to the United States has long been discredited. Mexican police trace only a fraction of the guns they seize, and they are specifically trained not to request U.S. traces on guns without U.S. markings, according to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Furthermore, according to federal data released in June, 78 percent of firearms submitted for tracing in 2009 and 66 percent of firearms submitted in 2010 were not traced back to final sales by U.S. licensed dealers.

Lastly, the Post’s article quotes Mr. Poire Romero, who said “The significant rise in violence and the increase in the number of public officials killed in Mexico coincides with lifting of the assault weapons ban.” 

Two things, (a) correlation does not equal causation, (b) the rise in violence is more closely tied to Mexico President Felipe Calderon’s anti-drug campaign. 

All one has to do is look at the numbers and the dates.  The U.S.’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired on September 13, 2004.  For the next two years crime and drug-related murders in Mexico stayed at a relatively constant rate. 

It wasn’t until 2006-2007, after newly elected President Calderon launched his war on drugs that drug-related murders began to surge in Mexico. 

To say or imply that the U.S.’s failure to revive the Federal Assault Weapons Ban played a role in the rise of drug-related deaths in Mexico is a serious misreading of the facts.