Guns tracing to Mexico
Colby Goodman, of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has an interesting study. A few excerpts:
"While ATF has some information on firearms recovered in Mexico, a total of 69,808 firearms as of May 2010, ATF agents say they can use only about eight percent of Mexico’s firearm trace requests to initiate investigations, in part because many of the trace requests lack basic identification data and were purchased in the United States more than five years ago. The U.S. government also faces substantial challenges, particularly in identifying firearms traffickers and persuading U.S. Attorneys to accept more criminal cases related to firearms trafficking to Mexico. Perhaps the most worrying from the Mexican government’s point of view, however, is ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation based out of Phoenix, Arizona, which reportedly allowed hundreds of firearms to be sold to potentially known traffickers as a way to build more attractive cases for U.S. Attorneys and ATF did not notify Mexican authorities."
"According to new statistics provided by the U.S. and Mexican governments, Mexico has submitted a total of 78,194 firearm trace requests to the United States from FY 2007 to FY 2010.34 During approximately the same time frame, President Calderon said Mexico had seized about 90,000 arms.35 Looking at these numbers, it may appear Mexico is providing ATF with information on a large number of the firearms it has seized since the start of the Calderon Administration, but ATF now reports that tens of thousands of the trace requests are duplicates.36 In some cases, ATF has received information on the same firearm up to five times as Mexican police, a crime lab, the military, and the Attorney General’s office all write down information on the same firearm, and the individual in the Attorney General’s office in Mexico City submits trace requests on all of them."
"According to a detailed U.S. DOJ Inspector General report released in November 2010, about 26 percent of Mexico’s trace requests to the U.S. government for FY 2009 were untraceable because of serial number errors."
" In addition, according to the same Inspector General’s report, 75 percent of the firearms ATF was able to trace to the first purchaser in the United States were purchased more than five years ago. The report further says that only about 18 percent of the firearms were purchased less than three years ago."
"For example, ATF agents frequently use the act of illegally buying a firearm for someone else, otherwise known as straw purchasing, in seeking to stop firearms trafficking to Mexico, but the overwhelming majority of the defendants convicted of this crime have received less than one year in prison.48 The average prison sentences for two other crimes ATF most often uses to stop firearms trafficking – knowingly making a false statement and willfully engaging in a firearms business without a license – were also just over a one year.49 By comparison, drug conspiracy charges averaged 10 year sentences. As a result, ATF officials have said there is often an unwritten, minimum threshold of 10 to 20 illegal trafficked firearms and one firearm used in a crime before a U.S. Attorney will accept the case, which appears to have led to the problems with ATF’s Fast and Furious Operation.50 U.S. Attorneys also stated that they decided to reject ATF referred cases related to Project Gunrunner because the cases sometimes lacked evidence of criminal intent or had insufficient evidence"
"Lastly, although ATF could increase the penalties firearms traffickers face by engaging in joint investigations with ICE on criminal cases related to smuggling and arms export controls, it has continued to largely avoid working with ICE, which has the most experience on these types of violations.58 For example, the DOJ Inspector General found that charges related to smuggling on average resulted in five year prison sentences, which are much longer than the crimes ATF often pursues.59 However, the Inspector General found that from “FY 2004 through FY 2009, only seven defendants in Project Gunrunner cases were convicted of smuggling.”"