The gun control crowd constantly crow about guns purchased by friends of felons for gun crimes. In fact, the Department of Justice reckons that only 8.5 percent of traced crime guns are the result of “straw purchases.” As we like to say in these parts, you can round it down to zero. I repeat: the vast majority of guns used in crime are black market weapons. And yet the press give straw purchases a hugely disproportionate amount of publicity . . .
This pleases gun control advocates no end. They point to the practice and imply that American gun crime is inextricably linked to “rogue” gun dealers and the NRA-led gun lobby, which de-fangs the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to protect those greedy, amoral gun dealers. Don’t get me started on the ATF. Too late . . .
As you know, the Mexican government spent a good part of the summer blaming America for the extreme violence on their northern and our southern border. In specific, President Calderon finger-waggled at American straw purchases. Apparently, the practice created what’s now called the “iron river”: an unspecified number of U.S. weapons going to unspecified drug cartels. The ATF seized on media-fueled liberal guilt and sucked up more than $80m in additional funding to set up new offices and combat the unspecified problem.
To no particular end. In the fall, the General Accounting Office issued a report ripping the ATF a new asshole for their incompetence and ineffectiveness. And no wonder. The agency inspected 2000 southern gun dealers, sniffing around (in a “guilty until proven innocent” kinda way) for straw purchases. The ATF revoked the licenses of exactly two gun dealers—and no one knows if the revocations were linked to the alleged and unofficial “Arms to Mexico” program. Or how many guns, if any, were involved.
Common sense and anecdotal evidence suggests that Mexican drug lords don’t need no stinkin’ straw purchases. They can simply walk over to their friends in the Mexican Army and local and state police and take the weapons they want. In recent years, as many as 150,000 Mexican soldiers have joined the drug cartels — bringing their American-made service-issued firearms with them.
If you’re more scientifically-oriented, ATF statistics reveal that the average firearm recovered in Mexico is more than 14 years past its original date of purchase. That’s a clear indication that these guns were not straw purchased here. What’s more, intelligence reports conclude that Mexican drug cartels are smuggling fully-automatic firearms, grenades and other weapons into Mexico from South and Central America.
Meanwhile, the firearms industry continues to get whacked in the mainstream media for straw purchases, such as the recent Washington Post “expose” on gun dealers who sold weapons that were eventually used in crimes. And the gun control folks continue to protest outside of gun stores, trying to intimidate law-abiding business into adopting a “voluntary” code which would violate the privacy of all legal firearms buyers.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is the lobby group in charge of looking after the firearm industry’s best interests. The organization is losing the PR battle against the media outlets slandering their members’ professional, moral and ethical standing. But that’s largely because the NSSF is non-confrontational on both the regulatory and media fronts. More to the point, they’ve failed to get the media to recognize the existence and importance of their multi-million dollar efforts to fight straw purchases.
For the last ten years, the NSSF has been running its “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” campaign against straw purchases. The initiative includes dontlie.org, billboards, posters, in-store materials, radio spots, dealer training, etc. Up until a couple of years ago, the Department of Justice gave the NSSF a grant that covered the cost of the ad buys. These days “Don’t Lie” is entirely NSSF-funded, with a budget between $500k and $1m per year.
Responding to the media feeding frenzy on straw purchases heading for Mexico, the NSSF has concentrated its “Don’t Lie” efforts on cities on our southern border: Phoenix, McAllen and El Paso. On February 9, the “Don’t Lie” campaign rolls into Houston. Spokesman Ted Novin sees the straw purchases problem in its proper perspective—a small and poorly documented part of criminal activity—but says the NSSF does what it can because it can.
“We can’t stop someone stealing a gun or buying a weapon on the black market,” Novin told TTAG. “But we can fight straw purchases with public awareness and dealer education . . . How do you measure the success of our program? Do you rate it based on more prosecutions for straw purchase or fewer?”
Nevin leaves the question hanging, silently acknowledging the media’s abject inability to see the firearms industry as both responsible and responsive for its members’ activities. Once again we’re confronted with the irony of the attention given straw purchases by gun control advocates and their media supporters. By denying the actual facts of the matter, by failing to concentrate their efforts where they could do most good, they’re making a great landing at the wrong airport. Actually, make that a lousy landing. For all of us.