Where Does Mexico Get Its Guns?
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now to a correction and a conversation. When President Obama was in Mexico yesterday, he met with Mexican President Felipe Calderon to discuss, among other things, the flow of U.S. guns south of the border. To learn more about the Mexican cartels that are using those guns, we spoke yesterday with Professor Bruce Bagley. He's chair of the Department of International Studies at the University of Miami.
Well, in the course of that conversation, Professor Bagley said that 90 percent of all guns used in drug-related crimes in Mexico come from the United States. It's a statistic that's been repeated by many public officials, including the Mexican ambassador as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, even President Obama as recently as yesterday.
President BARACK OBAMA: More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that lie in our shared border.
NORRIS: But that's not exactly true. Joining us now on the line for a little clarification is Robert Farley. He's a reporter for PolitiFact.com. That's a fact checking Web site run by the St. Petersburg Times. And he's done a little bit of research on this subject. Welcome to the program.
Mr. ROBERT FARLEY (Reporter, PolitiFact.com): How are you doing?
NORRIS: Mr. Farley, because we're talking about percentages, and in this case, a large percentage, 90 percent, I just want to try to dig into this and try to understand it. We're actually talking about a percentage of a percentage, is that correct?
Mr. FARLEY: That's correct. It's the guns that were submitted by Mexican officials to the ATF to be traced and then again, amongst those, those that could be traced.
NORRIS: Okay, so it wasn't that 90 percent of all the guns, it's just those that were submitted. How many were actually submitted? What kind of percentages are we talking about there?
Mr. FARLEY: About - last year, Mexican officials submitted a little over 12,000 guns to the ATF to be traced, and the year before that, about 6,500. Some statistics suggest that that's about a third of all the guns that have been recovered in Mexico.
NORRIS: So it's only one-third of the guns recovered in Mexico are sent back to the ATF. Now, are they able to actually discern, in looking at those guns, how many were from the U.S.? Are all of them traceable?
Mr. FARLEY: Not all guns are traceable, of course. We don't have exact percentages on how many - what percentage they're able to trace, but certainly not all of them.
NORRIS: Now, this 90 percent number has stirred a very active debate right now, and it stirred a certain amount of criticism. At least one of our listeners pointed us to a story that appeared on the Fox News Web site. And in that story they cite another statistic. They say that only 17 percent of guns seized in Mexico come from the U.S. Is that percentage closer to the truth?
Mr. FARLEY: No, as a matter of fact, it's probably very far from the truth. That number assumes that all the guns that have not been submitted to be traced are not from the United States. And that'd be, certainly, a big leap.
NORRIS: So if the 90 percent statistic is not quite right and the 17 percent number is also incorrect, what is the accurate number? What number should our policymakers be citing?
Mr. FARLEY: Well, we don't know exactly what percentage of all the recovered guns in Mexico, where they're coming from. But, you know, a Mexican official that we spoke with said that the percentage of guns confiscated in Mexico probably is closer to the 90 percent figure than the 17. If not, fully 90 percent, probably close to that. He said that almost all of the handguns that are confiscated in Mexico come from the United States. And that amongst the assault weapons, while a good number of them are coming from the United States, they're also - that's more of a mixed bag. And they're coming, as well, through some of the drug routes in Eastern Europe and Africa.
NORRIS: Well, Robert Farley, thank you very much for clearing this up for us.
Mr. FARLEY: Well, thanks so much for having me.
NORRIS: That's Robert Farley. He works for the Web site PolitiFact.com. He's a reporter there. The Web site is run by the St. Petersburg Times newspaper.
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