Columbus gun store tops nation in firearms tracings; Media exaggerates correlation of U.S. gun sales to Mexican crime yet again

The Washington Post recently obtained information on the names of gun dealers that had the most traces for firearms recovered by police in the last four years, and in a collaborative story by The Columbus Dispatch, the newspapers are reporting that Vance Outdoors in Columbus led the country in the number of guns recovered by police that were traced back to a dealer.

From the article:

A high number of guns traced to a store does not necessarily signal wrongdoing. The number of traces a store generates is shaped by many factors, including its sales total, the type of guns sold, geography and clientele.

About 2,390 guns were traced back to the Columbus store.

Owner Todd Vance said that he and his employees are "very vigilant" about "straw purchases," in which someone buys a gun for a person prohibited from owning one, and that they turn down 10 to 20 suspicious sales a week. He said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducts a monthlong inspection annually.

ATF Special Agent Kimberly Riddell, the public information officer for the bureau's Columbus field office, said that not all federally licensed firearms dealers are inspected annually. Vance Outdoors is among those that are inspected each year because it is considered a high-volume gun dealer, she said.

"They are cooperative with the inspections," she said.

Vance said that his grandfather started the business in 1938 on Cleveland Avenue in North Linden and that the store is a top source for shooters, hunters, anglers and boaters in central Ohio.

"We're as honest as the day is long," he said. "We want to stay in this business. We try to do everything humanly possible on our end to ensure sales are legitimate."

Post and Dispatch reporters go on to complain that while anti-gun politicians and their cohorts in the news media were once able to routinely report on U.S. gun stores that had the most traces for guns recovered by police (most assuredly without noting that the traces don't necessarily signal wrongdoing), in 2003, "under pressure from the gun lobby," Congress passed a law that hid from public view the government database that contained the gun-tracing information.

The Post obtained the names of the U.S. gun dealers with the most traces in the past four years. In addition, The Post uncovered the names of the dealers, all from border states, with the most traces from guns recovered in Mexico in the past two years.

No. 2 in traces nationally is Hyatt Coin & Gun in Charlotte, N.C., with about 2,055.

"We're not going to let anything go wrong here," said Larry Hyatt, 63, whose father opened the store in 1959. "No one here is going to disobey the law. Nobody buys a gun from this store without being checked out."

Don's Guns and Galleries in Indianapolis has the third-highest number of gun traces, about 1,910.

The Mexican traces obtained by The Post involve a shorter period - two years rather than four - and a smaller numbers of traces, in part because of problems with traces out of Mexico.

Of the more than 60,000 guns recovered in Mexico and traced back to the U.S., the ATF is able to link only about 25 percent to the dealers who first sold them and those buyers. In the U.S., on average, 65 to 70 percent of the weapons recovered are traced to dealers and buyers.

Reasons for the difference include a lack of information from Mexico, such as incorrectly reported or obliterated serial numbers, ATF officials say.

In a response to The Post/ Dispatch article, The Heritage Foundation has published an article entitled "Yet Again, Media Exaggerates Scale of Gun Smuggling from U.S. Into Mexico":

Of course, one reason that battle has turned violent is because the Mexican government of Felipe Calderon is trying, for the first time, to crack down on the gangs, who – not surprisingly – are fighting back. The writ of the Mexican state has never run throughout Mexico, and it has often been undermined by corruption. The U.S. has much to gain from Calderon's efforts, and it is in no way a criticism of Calderon to point out that violence in Mexico is driven by Mexican causes, and must find a Mexican solution.

Similarly, to the extent that there is gun running across the border from the U.S. into Mexico – and it certainly does exist – this, like the illegal immigrants that cross the other way, is a testimony to the fact that neither the U.S. nor Mexico controls the border. It would be a wonderful thing if U.S. newspapers, and politicians, campaigned as vigorously for border control as they do for gun control.

Sadly, the Post ignores the Mexican context, and sticks to the tried and true role of blaming the United States for Mexico's problems. It breathlessly reports that twelve U.S. gun dealers "have had double-digit traces of 'crime guns' to their stores from Mexico." That does not get us very far: ten is a "double-digit" number of traces. The Post singles out one gun dealer who, it claims, has had "more than 115 guns from his stores" seized in the past two years in Mexico. That is about one gun seized every week in all of Mexico.

To back up its assertion that the U.S. is the source of most of Mexico's guns ("statistics...show that 80 to 90 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico are first sold in the United States"), the Post cites the claim that "Federal authorities say that more than 60,000 U.S. guns of all types have been recovered in Mexico in the past four years." This is a wild exaggeration. The Post is referring to an oft-cited U.S. Government Accountability Office study which shows that, of the guns seized in Mexico and given to the ATF for tracing from 2004 through 2008, approximately 87 percent originated in the U.S.

But this number says nothing about the percentage of guns seized in Mexico that originated in the U.S., because the U.S. does not trace – because they are not of U.S. origin, and so are not submitted by Mexican authorities to the U.S. for tracing – the majority of guns seized in Mexico. According to the GAO, the number of guns seized in Mexico that have been traced back to the U.S. has ranged from 5,260 in 2005 to 1,950 in 2006 to 3,060 in 2007 to 6,700 in 2008. That is a total of about 17,000, nowhere close to 60,000.

There really should not be any dispute about this. It is not an argument about policy. It is about nothing more, or less, than who can look up a number in a government publication more accurately. To its credit, the Post does give the National Rifle Association space for rebuttal, but it leaves the impression that "the gun lobby" is simply trying to defend a long-discredited position. The reality is that, if 60,000 guns – or 75,000, as President Calderon said in May – have been seized in Mexico in recent years, less than a third have been traced back to the U.S.

The Heritage Foundation article concludes with the following:

[M]ake no mistake: these sorts of stories are part of an ongoing effort to secure CIFTA's ratification [the Inter-American Convention Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives, and Other Related Materials] by persuading the American public, and U.S. Senators, that CIFTA will cure Mexico's ills. Fortunately, the Senate seems in no mood to go along. But that does not stop the treaty's supporters from trying. It would, though, be nice if they could at least look up the numbers accurately.

Additional Information:
National Center for Policy Analysis - United States Should Shoot Down U.N. Small Arms Treaty

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