Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Merchants of Death

The other day, over at MikeB’s place, I was lamenting the fact that it was extremely difficult to prove that U.S. manufactured and purchased weapons were trickling over the border into the hands of Mexican cartels. It’s not that no one has attempted to report about this problem. But hard data is very rare and only comes about when a smuggling ring is indicted or a major killing of government officials takes place in Mexico with weapons that were purchased legally in the United States. Then, as I was waking up this morning, I heard on the radio about this heartless nineteen-year-old who would happily trade away the innocent lives of his fellow human beings south of the border for a handful of dollars. Just one week earlier, a twenty-year-old attempted to bring two automatic weapons across in Yuma.

It may have been this clarion call to action published by the NY Times on tax day 2009 that inspired Rep. Eliot L. Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere to order a special report from the GAO on U.S. guns entering Mexico illegally.

From the New York Times

John Phillip Hernandez, a 24-year-old unemployed machinist who lived with his parents, walked into a giant sporting goods store here in July 2006, and plunked $2,600 in cash on a glass display counter. A few minutes later, Mr. Hernandez walked out with three military-style rifles. One of those rifles was recovered seven months later in Acapulco, Mexico, where it had been used by drug cartel gunmen to attack the offices of the Guerrero State attorney general, court documents say. Four police officers and three secretaries were killed.

Although Mr. Hernandez was arrested last year as part of a gun-smuggling ring, most of the 22 others in the ring are still at large. Before their operation was discovered, the smugglers had transported what court documents described as at least 339 high-powered weapons to Mexico over a year and a half, federal agents said. “There is no telling how long that group was operating before we caught on to them,” said J. Dewey Webb, the agent in charge of the Houston division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Noting there are about 1,500 licensed gun dealers in the Houston area, Mr. Webb added, “You can come to Houston and go to a different gun store every day for several months and never alert any one.”

Our gun nut friends tell us that there is no “loophole.” Perhaps “superhighway” might be a more apt metaphor.

As a result, in some states along the Southwest border where firearms are lightly regulated, gun smugglers can evade detection for months or years. In Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, dealers can sell an unlimited number of rifles to anyone with a driver’s license and a clean criminal record without reporting the sales to the government.
At gun shows in these states, there is even less regulation. Private sellers, unlike licensed dealers, are not obligated to record the buyer’s name, much less report the sale to the A.T.F. Sending straw buyers into American stores, cartels have stocked up on semiautomatic AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, converting some to machine guns, investigators in both countries say. They have also bought .50 caliber rifles capable of stopping a car and Belgian pistols able to fire rifle rounds that will penetrate body armor. Federal agents say about 90 percent of the 12,000 pistols and rifles the Mexican authorities recovered from drug dealers last year and asked to be traced came from dealers in the United States, most of them in Texas and Arizona.

I know that the gun nuts have seen this 90% figure before and have been concocting stories to refudiate it ever since. (h/t to Sarah Palin.)

A review of cases over the last two years shows a pattern: the drug cartels hire people in need of cash with no criminal records to buy guns from legal sources, often just one or two at a time.
Once the smugglers have amassed a cache of weapons, they drive them across the border in small batches, stuffed inside spare tires, fastened to undercarriages with zip ties or bubble-wrapped and tucked into vehicle panels. In some cases, the drug traffickers and gun smugglers are linked.

Here’s your “loophole:” Never mind private sales and private dealers at gun shows.

The record keeping is not always perfect. In trying to track guns confiscated in Mexico last year, agents found that one in five of the guns could not be traced because the dealers had no record of the sale or had gone out of business and the records had been lost. Even when the original legal buyer is located, a gun owner in many states, can legally say “I lost it” or “I sold it to someone I do not know.”
Dealers are not obligated to tell the authorities about multiple sales of rifles like the AK-47, as they must do with pistols.

A lot of people thought that Obama and Napolitano were actually going to do something concrete to combat this problem, especially after the aforementioned report.

Reporting from Washington —
The United States lacks a coordinated strategy to stem the flow of weapons smuggled across its southern border, a failure that has fueled the rise of powerful criminal cartels and violence in Mexico, a government watchdog agency report has found. The report by the congressional Government Accountability Office, the first federal assessment of the issue, offered blistering conclusions that will probably influence the debate over the role of U.S.-made weaponry as violence threatens to spill across the Mexico border.According to a draft copy of the report, which will be released today, the growing number of weapons being smuggled into Mexico comprise more than 90% of the seized firearms that can be traced by authorities there. In the meantime, illegally obtained U.S. weapons -- including an increasing number of automatic rifles -- are being used to kill thousands of Mexican police, soldiers, elected officials and civilians, the report said.

But the GAO criticisms go beyond operational concerns. Some findings cited laws and policies in the U.S. and Mexico that could make it difficult to institute lasting reforms such as lax U.S. laws for collecting and reporting information on firearms purchases, and a lack of required background checks for private firearms sales.

But alas, Obama couldn’t risk his perfect record of kowtowing to the gun lobby and its maniacal cadre of gun owners. Fat lot of good it did him, since idiots like Zach Wamp still campaign on protecting our guns from Obama. Fear not gun owners, Obama doesn’t want to make you fill out any extra paperwork or register your guns with the ATF. That’s right. His idea? Send a bunch of National Guard troops to the border for a summer vacation. Great. That ought to dry up the flow of marijuana, amphetamines and heroin for a little while. Better stock up junkies.

Oh well, better luck next time!