An ATF document obtained by the Washington Free Beacon reveals 19,600 guns were recovered from crime scenes in Mexico and traced back to the U.S. between 2006 and 2010. Of those, 15,995 had a "time-to-crime" of three or more years, with an average of 15.
"Time-to-crime" is the period between a firearm's retail sale and law enforcement's recovery of the firearm in connection with a crime. For comparison, the U.S. average time-to-crime over the same period was 10.5 years. The time-to-crime average provides information about how quickly guns are getting from U.S. gun stores and into the hands of cartels, an indicator of how pervasive trafficking is.
The lengthy interval between guns being registered and recovered suggests that the Obama administration’s claims that illegally purchased American guns are fueling violence in Mexico’s drug war are overblown.
A Justice Department report states "the recovery of a crime gun within 2 to 3 years after its initial purchase is considered a short time-to-crime and a significant trafficking indicator."
A source at the ATF said there were several factors leading to the long time-to-crime average in the document. The number included the time it takes between when Mexican authorities recovered a firearm and when it was sent to the ATF for tracing, which in some cases took up to a year or more, the source said.
According to the ATF, many of the firearms included in the figures were also old. For part of the investigation, Mexican authorities gave the ATF a list to comb through of roughly 60,000 serial numbers of weapons involved in crimes.
The document was filed as part of the court record in the 2011 case National Shooting Sports Foundation v. Jones and was never intended for the public. Nevertheless, it sheds new light on gun trafficking across the U.S.-Mexican border.
It is widely accepted that illegal trafficking is arming Mexico’s violent drug cartels, but exactly how many of those guns are coming from the U.S. has been the subject of fierce debate.
The Obama administration and gun control advocates have depicted cartel violence in Mexico as being fueled by a sudden flood of illegal guns coming from the U.S.
"A demand for these drugs in the United States is what is helping to keep these cartels in business," President Obama said in April 2009. "This war is being waged with guns purchased not here, but in the United States. More than 90 percent of the guns recovered in Mexico come from the United States, many from gun shops that line our shared border."
Obama was referring to a 2009 Government Accountability Office report that concluded about 87 percent of firearms seized by Mexican authorities and traced in the last five years originated in the United States.
Critics say that Obama and gun control advocates who cited the report failed to mention that only 7,200 of the roughly 30,000 guns seized by Mexican authorities in 2008 were sent to ATF for tracing.
Scott Stewart, an analyst for global intelligence company STRATFOR, wrote that only 4,000 of those were traceable. Of those, 3,480 were linked back to the United States. Using those numbers, 12 percent of the guns confiscated in 2008 were positively traced to the United States.
A Fox news report put the percentage of guns traced back to the U.S. in 2007 and 2008 at 17 percent. FactCheck.org argued the number should be closer to 36 percent.