This week a Mexican official confirmed that President Felipe Calderon’s government has hired U.S. trial lawyers to investigate possible litigation against U.S. gun manufacturers and firearms retailers, seeking to hold these lawful companies responsible for the criminal misuse of firearms in Mexico. Though the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, signed into law in 2005 by then President George W. Bush, prevents such frivolous lawsuits, the mere threat demands a response.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms industry, respects the work of President Calderon to willingly take on his country’s powerful drug cartels; however, we are disappointed that he would seek to hold law-abiding American companies responsible for crime in Mexico. This is especially troubling given investigative reports that show more than 80 percent of the firearms recovered in Mexico do not come from the United States. The most recent of these reports, from the independent research group STRATFOR, determined that less than 12 percent of the guns Mexico seized in 2008 came from the United States.
Furthermore, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), firearms traced in Mexico were originally sold at retail not recently, but, on average, 14 years earlier. This is completely inconsistent with any notion that a flood of newly purchased firearms are being illegally smuggled over the border. And let’s not forget that no retail firearm sale can be made in the U.S. until after an FBI criminal background check of the purchaser has been completed.
Exacerbating misconceptions about the firearms used by Mexican drug cartels, even mainstream publications such as the Washington Post, repeat erroneous information. For example, in today’s editorial the paper stated that Mexican drug cartels are “snapping up the military-style machine guns available in U.S. gun shops.” The fact is that machine guns are heavily regulated and virtually never sold at retail in the United States.
Still, in response to concerns over the violence in Mexico, ATF conducted more than 2,000 inspections of firearms dealers along the border. The result? Not a single dealer was charged with committing any crime and only two (or 0.01%) had their licenses revoked for unknown reasons that could have nothing to do with the cartels illegally obtaining firearms from retailers in the United States.
While these ATF inspections were clearing the law-abiding retailers’ good names, which were being smeared by many in the mainstream press and anti-gun officials in both the United States and Mexico, as many as 150,000 Mexican soldiers defected to work for the drug cartels, bringing their American-made service-issued firearms with them.
Perhaps the Mexican government should seek to file suit against their military personnel actively engaged in such illegal conduct.
Members of the firearms industry take seriously the criminal acquisition and misuse of their products. This is why our industry has for more than a decade partnered with the ATF in a national campaign to make the public aware that it is a serious crime to straw purchase a firearm. The program, called Don’t Lie for the Other Guy, is now funded completely by members of the firearms industry and also helps ATF to educate firearms retailers – whom ATF considers the first line of defense – to better detect and prevent illegal straw purchases.
The firearms industry is one of America’s oldest and most-storied entities. We played a prominent role in America’s westward expansion, continue to serve as the Arsenal for Democracy and support the conservation of America’s wildlife and great outdoors. We are also one of the most regulated industries in the world. From production to distribution, distribution to sale, everything we as an industry do is overseen by the United States government.
Again, we applaud President Calderon for taking steps to stop the cartels when past Mexican administrations paid only lip service and allowed rampant corruption to fester. Still, it is wrong for anyone to blame America’s firearms industry for the problems Mexico is currently facing.