FIRST-PERSON: Mexico, U.S. guns and the media's 90 percent myth

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--"When all you have is a hammer," so goes an old saying, "everything looks like a nail." Likewise, when you are committed to a bias you try every way possible to support it.

A recent statement by William Hoover, assistant director for field operations at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, is being used by those who seemingly have a bias against guns and gun ownership.

Hoover testified in the House of Representatives that "there is more than enough evidence to indicate that over 90 percent of the firearms that have either been recovered in, or interdicted in transport to Mexico, originated from various sources within the United States.

Even though the statement is misleading, media outlets and some politicians seized on Hoover's claim and began to shout it from sea to shining sea.

"U.S. Guns Arming Mexican Drug Gangs; Second Amendment to Blame?" is how ABCnews.com heralded the news.

The New York Times was a bit bolder declaring in a headline, "U.S. Is Arms Bazaar for Mexican Cartels."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton followed the media's lead and repeated the 90 percent figure to reporters on a flight to Mexico City.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California parroted the figure at a Senate hearing, saying: "It is unacceptable to have 90 percent of the guns that are picked up in Mexico ... come from the United States."

The message so far has been clear: Guns are too easy to obtain in the United States and the Second Amendment is to blame. As a result, the gun violence in Mexico is made worse. There is one problem, though: The 90 percent figure is bogus. Fox News was suspicious of the 90 percent claim and did some digging. What the news network found is that only 17 percent of guns found at Mexican crime scenes have been actually traced to the U.S.

There is quite a discrepancy between 17 percent and 90 percent. So which is actually correct?

An ATF spokesperson clarified the 90 percent statistic that was used by Hoover. She told FoxNews.com "that over 90 percent of the traced firearms originate from the U.S."

The key to understanding the "90 percent" figure is the word "traced." The vast majority of guns recovered in Mexico do not get sent back to the U.S. for tracing, because, Fox News reported, "it is obvious from their markings that they do not come from the U.S."

ATF Special Agent William Newell told FoxNews.com that in between 2007 and 2008 Mexico submitted 11,000 guns to the ATF for tracing. Of that number, 6,000 were successfully traced and of those, approximately 90 percent -- 5,114 to be exact -- were found to have come from the United States.

However, according to the Mexican government, 29,000 guns were recovered from crime scenes during 2007 and 2008, FoxNews.com reported.

Let's try to put things in perspective, something the aforementioned media outlets and politicians have yet to do: Of the 29,000 guns recovered at Mexican crime scenes in 2007-2008, only 5,114 -- about 17 percent -- have been traced to the United States. Approximately 18,000 were never submitted for tracing because it was obvious they were not from the United States.

"Not every weapon seized in Mexico has a serial number on it that would make it traceable, and the U.S. effort to trace weapons really only extends to weapons that have been in the U.S. market," Matt Allen, special agent of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told FoxNews.com.

While it is true that 90 percent of the traced guns recovered from Mexican crime scenes are found to have come from the U.S., the actual number of guns that have been traced to the United States is only 17 percent.

Where do the guns being used in Mexico come from? According to FoxNews.com, they come from a variety of sources. Among them are Russia, South America, Asia, Guatemala and even the Mexican Army.

Will the media and left-leaning politicians correct themselves and acknowledge that the gun violence along the US-Mexican border is mostly due to guns coming from places other than America? I doubt it. When you're trying to support your bias, "17 percent" is not very persuasive.


Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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