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The next time gun-control advocates point to violence in Mexico and call for more restrictions on gun sales or a revived assault-weapons ban, they should consider that the problem may not be with the laws on the books, but with those who enforce them.
A number of outlets — among them CBS News, the L.A. Times, and the Center for Public Integrity — have alleged scandalous behavior at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
The media — for example, Reuters — have widely reported that “nine out of ten guns” found at Mexican crime scenes came from U.S. gun dealers, but this claim has been debunked: The statistic takes into account only guns traced by the FBI. Such tracing is possible only if the Mexican authorities submit a weapon to the FBI, and they submit only weapons designed for the U.S. civilian market (the only kind of gun the FBI is equipped to trace). Once all guns retrieved in Mexico are included, only 17 percent come from U.S. gun dealers.
There are plenty of places for the cartels to buy guns other than the U.S. retail market. A goodly portion of weapons trotted out for the press cannot be legally purchased in the U.S. without the ATF’s say-so and approval from the local chief law-enforcement officer (short-barreled rifles, for example). Rocket-propelled grenades and newly manufactured machine guns are not available at gun shows. Further gun control imposed on typical American buyers would have no effect on the ability of the cartels to purchase these military-grade weapons