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ATF Publishes Misleading Trace Data From Mexico

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Yesterday afternoon, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms released firearms tracing data to the press from Mexico between the years 2007-2011 during a roundtable discussion and presentation given by ATF Special Agent John Hageman. The data was released at ATF headquarters in Washington D.C. Reporters were allowed to bring pen and paper, but were prohibited from bringing computers or recording devices.  When we arrived, despite prohibiting the use of computers, ATF gave us a flashdrive.


That’s the percentage of guns traced in Mexico to United States sources or Federal Firearms Licensees [gun dealers] according to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.

In September 2009, the Mexican government provided ATF with “electronic files containing firearms identifiers and recovery data. The electronic files contained information that initiated over 43,000 firearms traces, excluding duplicates, with most having recovery years ranging from CY 2007 to 2009,” according to information given to the press.

The majority of the sales linked back to the U.S. according to this trace data, actually come from government to government sales, not from normal sales made in American gun shops. Despite this fact, anti-gun groups and members of Congress use this misleading data to push for more gun control and regulations on retail stores.

California Senator Diane Feinstein used similar data during a hearing about Operation Fast and Furious last fall to call for more gun regulation, as did embattled Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.

“ATF isn’t making a determination on how people view our data,” ATF Special Agent John Hageman said.

Or are they? ATF uses these numbers to justify its new long gun reporting measures. The new measures were implemented last summer and require border state gun dealers to report multiple sales of semi-automatic rifles.

Hageman said since the new reporting measures were put into place last fall, ATF has opened up 100 new investigations and has named 30 defendants as a result. Sounds great right? Wrong. “100” is simply the number  of opened investigations on 70 percent of people ATF wanted to look into for buying more than one semi-automatic rifle at a time. The 30 statistic is the number of actual possible criminals/named defendants.

I asked if guns trafficked into Mexico during the Obama Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious program were being counted in this data. Although  Hageman wouldn’t openly admit Fast and Furious guns were being lumped in with this data, he responded by saying that any gun submitted for tracing in Mexico and traced back to the U.S. is counted.

I also asked why guns were not checked through the National Crime Information Center database to see if they were reported stolen before being counted in this data. It was determined that stolen guns are indeed counted in this data.

“I don’t have an accurate accounting for that [stolen guns],” Hageman said.

In addition, I asked if ATF had any plans in the future to break down trace data into categories such as personal retail sales traces verses large sales traces from FFLs to foreign governments that are approved by the State Department. The answer was no.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley has questioned the validity of ATF firearms trace data in the past and issued a statement regarding trace data released by ATF yesterday.  

“Thorough gun statistics are hard to come by and tricky to interpret.  The key to this data is that most of these guns can’t be traced to U.S. gun dealers.  And, some of those would actually trace back to the United States because of the federal government’s own gunwalking scandal.  We also have to remember that the only guns Mexico is going to submit for tracing are guns they know are from the United States, which clearly paints an incomplete picture of the firearms found in the Mexico,” Grassley said.
In the end, ATF counts stolen guns in this data, guns sold to foreign governments by FFLs under the approval of the State Department in this data and counts guns ATF and DOJ purposely sent into Mexico as “guns being traced back to the U.S.” 


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