Bristling guns from the Mexican drug war

The AP's Eduardo Verdugo captured a remarkable image from Mexico's drug war: a bristling rack of seized guns with their muzzles face on to the camera. Just looking at it makes me want to duck. Shown here, a downsized thumbnail. Click below for the whole image on the WashPo.

Seized weapons sit on racks in a warehouse at the Secretary of the Defense headquarters in Mexico City. (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)


  1. Gee, I wonder in what country those guns were legally purchased?

    Not that there’s any reason for that country to open a dialog on the insanity of its gun laws or anything…

    1. Probably not the United States, since most of those guns appear to be Uzis. The manufacture, importation, and sale of fully-automatic weapons for the civilian market was banned in 1986. Obtaining a pre-ban weapon requires an unusually extensive federal background check, and the remaining examples command exorbitant five-figure prices. This is not an effective way for a cartel to arm its soldiers. The Mexican cartels generally either buy containerloads of AK-pattern rifles from arms traffickers for $20 a pop, or steal weapons from police and military armories. What little trafficking does take place across the American border likely involves semi-automatic handguns.

      According to the Christian Science Monitor, 70% of the weapons seized in Mexico that are submitted to the ATF for tracing are determined to have originated in the United States. This sounds like a lot, but the Mexican authorities only submit weapons that are marked properly for sale in the US (i.e. guns that bear a place-of-origin rollmark from an American manufacturer or importer.) It is estimated that the weapons submitted to the ATF by Mexico only account for 30% of total seizures. This suggests that, of all the illegal guns in use by the Mexican cartels, 0.7+(0.3^2) = 79% originated in countries other than the United States.

      Facts are so much nicer than knee-jerk assumptions, aren’t they?

      1. > Facts are so much nicer than knee-jerk 
        > assumptions, aren’t they? 

        I’d call them NRA talking points long before I’d call them facts…

        For example, here’s a wiki article that puts the percentage of U.S. weapons seized in Mexico at more like 70% of the total.

        And remember, a stolen gun isn’t going to do you any good for very long without a ready supply of bullets. Where does your NRA fact book tell you those are coming from? (Hint: its not Canada…) There’s countless articles about this, here’s one to get you started.

        1. As I clearly stated in my post, that information was sourced from an article in the Christian Science Monitor. I don’t like the NRA any more than you do. Please do not attempt to prop up your baseless argument by attacking my credibility.

          The former Soviet Union still leads the world in ammunition manufacture. Surplus ammunition can be had as cheaply and easily as surplus AK-74s and Makarovs. There is also plenty of ammunition that can be stolen from the Mexican armed forces (which is where the infamous Zetas got their start.)

          Edit: Your article cites U.S. DoJ statistics that do not agree at all with the ATF’s statistics cited in a 2011 Senate report. Since the ATF is actually the organization that directly performs all of these weapons traces and tracks the outcomes, I am much more inclined to trust their numbers.

          1. Just because *some* guns and bullets seized in Mexico didn’t come from America hardly means there’s not a problem with American arms fueling the drug war.

            And there are hundreds of articles discussing American over-the-counter arms making their way down to Mexico.

            Edit: And here’s an interesting article about the influence the NRA has over the ATF, so I’m not sure their statistics are as trustworthy as you hope.

        2. > I’d call them NRA talking points long before I’d call them facts…

          Whether or not the NRA has talked about the points eggmasterj wrote has no bearing whatsoever on the veracity of those points.  Although the way you phrased that sentence sounds like you’re trying to discredit eggmasterj’s statements by intimating they have some relation to a widely reviled organization.  That, however, is not a valid argument.

          >For example, here’s a wiki article that puts the percentage of U.S.
          > weapons seized in Mexico at more like 70% of the total.

          The sentence in that Wikipedia article you’re referencing itself references an AFP article which repeats numbers mentioned in dozens, if not hundreds, of news articles, which leads me to part of another comment of yours further down this page,

          > And there are hundreds of articles discussing American over-the-
          > counter arms making their way down to Mexico.

          This is another logical fallacy called bandwagoning.  It means that a lot of people saying the same thing doesn’t mean that thing is factually correct.  In the case of the AFP article, the numbers mentioned are correct as far as I know, but the words used around them by almost every article I’ve read mis-represent the original ATF statement, which said,

          “…of the 94,000 guns submitted for tracing which were successfully traced, 64,000 were traced to the United States.”

          The words and phrasing in that AFP article suggests that the ATF is saying at least 64,000 guns came from straw purchases at U.S. gun stores, but the ATF’s statement doesn’t actually say that:

          “Of the 94,000 guns submitted for tracing…” means that more than 94,000 guns were retrieved by Mexican authorities.  Some of those may have come from the U.S. and simply weren’t submitted for tracing, but we actually have no idea what proportion of the total those 94,000 are – it could be 100% or it could be 0.001%.

          “…64,000 were traced to the United States.”  Which, largely due to phrasing in news articles, a lot of people assume means those guns were purchased at U.S. gun stores and smuggled to cartels in Mexico.  However, the statement doesn’t actually say that.  A gun bought in a U.S. gun store and illegally smuggled into Mexico does fit that statement, but so does a gun sold legally by the U.S. government to the Mexican government that then made its way to criminals also fits that statement.  In fact, any number of scenarios could be represented by that statement, only one of which is the one you assume it means.

          Regardless of your or my position on any issue, you don’t vet the information you receive, you assume information is correct when it fits your pre-conceived opinion, and your reasoning and arguments are flawed.

          Here’s a Wikipedia article that you might find useful:

          1.  Wow, thank you vorpalis, for directly and cordially adhering to the values of neutral logic and neutral analysis.  I am very interested in wrybread’s response, because I want to see that he/she also values intellectual honesty and logic in these types of debates.

            It’s hard to neutrally evaluate information contrary to your feelings, and it’s even harder to have a level head while you try to explain things to people on the other side of the debate.  Thanks for doing that.

            Honestly, BoingBoing NEEDS to be a place where adverse ideas can be discussed and evaluated, and I expect nothing less from the readership.

          2. Regardless of your or my position on any issue, you don’t vet the information you receive, you assume information is correct when it fits your pre-conceived opinion, and your reasoning and arguments are flawed.

            And you’ve personally witnessed the evidence and run the numbers yourself?

          3.  Antinous, vorpalis’ point is that the oft-cited “70% of crime guns in Mexico come from the US” statistic is itself plagued with logical problems – which are apparent to any intellectually honest assesser.

            While nobody here is qualified to evaluate the veracity of the joint ATF-Mexican Authorities report on arms tracing, every BB interloper is capable of reading said report and identifying the false claims made based upon it.

            I’ll lay it out, contrast one claim with the other:
            -“70% of seized guns in Mexico come from US gun stores” is a false claim, which is immediately identifiable as false if you read the report yourself.  This claim is clearly made based on inferences, not observations.

            -“70% of seized guns, which were submitted for tracing to the ATF by Mexican Authorities, originated from the US” is a much stronger and more qualified statement, and is found to be true, based upon the report.  Because that’s exactly what the report said (numbers are off, I’m not looking at it right now).

            This second statement leaves open a lot of qualifiers:
            I. What does ‘originated in the US’ mean?
            -A. For example, the US government provides the Mexican Military with it’s arms.  Combine that with the fact that over 150,000 Mexican Soldiers have deserted in the past 7 years, and you wind up with a lot of US rifles floating around the Mexican black market.  At the very least, this fact means that the original “70%” claim is based upon trash data.  And I hope you agree with me on that.
            -B. Does the report discriminate between guns purchased in US guns stores and guns that the US government sold to the Mexican government?

            II. What is the number of guns that were seized, but were not submitted to the ATF for tracing?
            -A. Why weren’t ALL seized guns submitted to the ATF for tracing?
            –1. This section alone is wide open for data manipulation, making the entire report trash data.  The joint ATF report allows for apparent discretion on the part of the ‘Mexican Authorities’ for which guns they will submit for tracing.
            –2. Where did the guns which did not originate in the US come from and how did they get into Mexico?

            Antinous – I hope I have laid out a neutral analysis of these claims, upon which you can agree.  This is basic logic-analysis, we aren’t talking about investigative research into the veracity of the ATF report, we are just talking about the veracity of claims made based on the data in the ATF report.

          4. I get your point, but it ends up sounding like ‘nobody can ever really know anything’, which is not all that productive. And a fallacy in its own right.

          5. I guess I can see how it can end up sounding like that, but it truly isn’t that way in this instance.   To be sure, it’s easier to root out false claims than it is to root out bad research.  That’s my (and I’m assuming Vorpalis’s) point – people with agendas made false claims based on this ATF report.  BB and all other science/truth-minded communities need to reject those kinds of agenda-driven lies.

            Making decisions and allegiances based on headlines or inaccurate opinions is unacceptable.  This is the exact reason I left the church culture in which I was raised. We need to expound the values of logic and critical thought, anything less is immoral in my opinion.

          6. Ha, quite the kerfuffle.

            Seems to me that the strongest argument anyone is making is that the statistics are flawed. But here’s what I’ll ask you in return: what if American guns *are* being smuggled over the border to Mexico and causing a lot of trouble down there? Does that at least merit *discussion*?

            I’ve been driving through Baja once a year for about 10 years, with a couple of side trips through the mainland, and I’ll tell you this: every single person I talk to down there, gringo and local, thinks the guns and bullets come straight from the U.S. And I know that’s not exactly proof that they are, but its at least accepted fact to the people down there. And whether the real percentage is 100% or 40% doesn’t matter all that much to me, but it seems pretty certain that its far too high, and causing far too much damage to ignore.

      2. According to the Christian Science Monitor, 70% of the weapons seized in Mexico that are submitted to the ATF for tracing are determined to have originated in the United States. This sounds like a lot, but the Mexican authorities only submit weapons that are marked properly for sale in the US (i.e. guns that bear a place-of-origin rollmark from an American manufacturer or importer.)

        So, according to you, Mexico only sends the ATF guns that originated in the US, and then the ATF determines that 70% of these actually originated in the US?  If the Mexicans are so bad at determining which guns originated in the US, then clearly they are also not submitting to the ATF a significant number of arms that did originate in the US.

        The most likely explanation of this phenomenon, though, is that your post is poorly thought-out BS.

        1. I am referring to origination in terms of place of first sale. There may well be guns manufactured in the US that are exported for sale in other countries but bear markings that would allow them to be sold in the US. The Mexican government does not know if these were first sold at retail in the US, which is why they are submitted for tracing. They only know that the guns are externally marked in such a way that they _could have been_ sold in the US. It is relatively easy to identify guns that could not possibly have been sold in the US, but it may be difficult to distinguish between a US-manufactured gun intended for the US retail market and a US-manufactured gun exported for foreign sale. Thus, any error is likely biased towards the inadvertent submission of guns not originally sold in the US; the risk of failing to submit guns that did legitimately originate in the US is fairly low, since any weapon originally sold in the States will bear a manufacturer or importer’s US place-of-origin rollmark.

          Edit: It is also possible that some weapons submitted are models that are known to be sold in the US but have had serial numbers, place-of-origin markings, or other identifying information obliterated from the frame. Obviously, it would be futile to attempt to trace these.

    2.  The bigger question is how many of them were green lit by the ATF for their stupid Fast and Furious program.

      Other than that – so what? You can’t predict what will happen to guns once they are sold. Should you just profile and not sell to Hispanics in the Southwest? If not, then there isn’t a whole lot you can do against straw purchases or people who wouldn’t be flagged by the ATF background check.

      Also – as someone else pointed out – machine guns are very hard and very expensive to come by in the with extra ATF checks. Any illegal machine guns most likely were not from the US.

      1. My first thought was, “wasn’t there a scene like this in the Matrix?”, followed almost immediately by “wow, I really AM losing my memory…”

          1. Also, if you accidentally saw the sequels then you might be suppressing memories in self defense.

          2.  TooGoodToCheck – I believe everybody would be justified in Standing Their Ground against the Matrix sequals.

    1. Oddly, it makes me think of Imelda Marcos’s shoe closet. I suppose that she wouldn’t have had the shoe racks if Ferdinand hadn’t had the gun racks.

  2. I would like to see the following statistics:
    **what % of those guns were part of the USA’s aid to Mexico to help them fight their drug war
    **what % of those started off illegally (illegal imports from non-USA, or machine guns illegally constructed from parts)
    **what % were stolen from Mexico’s state arsenals (the zetas were originally special forces, after all),
    **and lastly what % started off as legally purchased guns in the US

    I’m only pointing out this because the UZI, while purchasable in the US, isn’t easy to obtain in the configuration that those appear to be (short barrel with a stock, probably also full-auto). That particular gun in those quantities would lead me to believe that those were purchased by a state, not purchased in the USA by a sneaky citizen.

    If there were a zillion semi-auto Romanian AK’s, maybe I’d reconsider….

    1. You bring up important points.
      -If it’s full-auto, it was not purchased at a US gun store.
      -If it’s explosive (grenade, RPG, land mine, etc), it was not purchased at a US gun store.
      -If your cartel owns airports, seaports, regulators and politicians, why bother bringing in watered-down firearms from the dangerous US border when you can smuggle in Full-Auto, and much more powerful firearms through much more porous borders?

      Over 150,000 Mexican Soldiers have deserted in the past 7 years.  That’s a lot of full-auto rifles gone missing.  Do guns get smuggled over the US/Mexico border?  Sure.  But you are not using your brain if you think that gun control laws in the US be anything more than a drop in the bucket against the cartels’ weapons acquisition.

      1. If it’s full-auto, it was not purchased at a US gun store.

        I’m no gun expert, but I was under the impression that it was relatively easy to convert a semi-auto into a full-auto using kits widely available by mail-order.

        1.  Generally speaking, if firearms can be converted to full-auto simply by installing a kit, then the ATF already regulates that firearm as a full-auto.  I think it would be illegal to sell such kits as well.  It wouldn’t be illegal to sell books on manufacturing such items.

          Now, I could see the cartels running machine shops with educated machinists who could convert certain models from semi to full-auto.  But again, why smuggle in semi-auto firearms from the US, employ machinists and buy machine shops to convert them to full-auto – when instead you can recruit mexican soldiers from the army or smuggle full-auto guns through seaports.  I just don’t think that a smart and effective criminal enterprise would smuggle tools of the trade over the US border as it’s main supply.

          Also food for thought – a gun is an internal combustion engine of sorts :)  Modifying something that works with those types of pressures is serious business.  One incorrectly spec’d hole or pin, and you run the risk of blowing yourself up.  I don’t see this as being a viable option for the cartels.

          1. Why? Because it’s trade. Drugs for Guns. Dollars less useful as they need to be laundered.

          2.  Replying to David Lloyd (I can’t reply directly):

            This is an interesting thing to think about.  So in Mexico, it’s nearly impossible to legally own a gun, so guns become valuable in the black markets – both for their use and for trade.

            I mentioned this up above regarding drugs – which is worse, the damage drugs (in this case, guns) do, or the violence caused by the creation of black markets.

            In both cases, I would argue the black markets cause more damage than prohibition mitigates. 

          3. I was also under the impression that it’s a lot easier to smuggle things into Mexico from the U.S. than the other way around. If you’ve already got the infrastructure to ship huge quantities of contraband substances north then picking up a few legally (or semi-legally) purchased guns on your way back is an outright cakewalk by comparison.

    2. Doing some research and it appears the Mexican military forces do not employ UZI Smgs. The Federal police forces do, though…

      In any case, can’t we agree that the cartels would have less resources to replenish their arsenal if the United States wasn’t such a lucrative market to sell their ‘products’?

  3. When you declare a “war” on something you shouldn’t act all surprised when the other side raises a bona-fide army to fight it.

  4. If Mexico wanted to stop gun violence from the drug trade over night – they would legalize the drug trade.

    1.  I would also argue that legalizing gun possession would put a dent in the cartel’s profits/violence.  When regular joes can own a thing, the value of that thing tends to drop…

  5. Guns good, blah, blah, blah. Guns bad, blah, blah, blah. I looked through the  photos on the site. More or less what you’d expect EXCEPT photo 32. The caption is something about how many containers are disgorged per year. What I find disturbing is that the guy in camo in the photo is using a DIVINING ROD!!!! Whether you agree with the US drug policy or not this is profoundly stupid. 

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