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“Almost immediately after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a stepped-up vehicle search program beginning in March 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials went five consecutive months — May through September — without recovering a single weapon in El Paso, within sight of the bloodiest battleground in the Mexican drug war.” So what does that tell you? Seriously. I have no idea. Judging from the article in USA Today, neither does anyone else. But everyone seems to think it’s a problem. “The seizures represent a tiny fraction of arms flooding Mexico from the USA, at a rate of 2,000 per day, according to Brookings Institution estimates.” Two thousand guns a day? That’s 730,00 guns southbound and down per year. I’m not buying it . . .

I rang up the Brookings Institute. The PR guy says that Vanda Felbab-Brown, a fellow in their foreign policy studies program, would know from whence USA Today got the stat. She’s out of the country.

But let’s assume it’s right. Americans bought 11 million guns last year. If 730k of them went to Mexico, that means some six percent of all U.S. gun sales were bought for the purpose of smuggling them to Mexican drug lords. Again, assuming that data is credible, catching those thousands of gun buyers should be like shooting fish in a barrel.

What does that say about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), other than they’re not getting it done? For one thing, they’ve prosecuted a handful of smugglers. For another, this number casts new light on the 19,000 guns they claim to have traced from 2006 through 2009. That’s only 6333 traces per year, or less than one percent of the Brookings’ estimate.

But wait! Those 19,000 traces are only for guns the Mexican authorities asked the U.S. to trace. In other words, they were American guns confiscated in Mexico. The ATF hasn’t told us where they came from, exactly, or how they got to Mexico, generally. More to the point, how many Mexican-bound guns did the ATF intercept in the United States?

What’s the bet that number is in the hundreds? Quite simply, if there are 730,000 guns flowing from los Estados Unidos to Mexican drug lords (including their friends and family program) per year, the agencies in charge of stopping the weapons flow should be tripping all over them.

Instead they’re tripping all over each other. I’ve chronicled the cluster-you-know-what that is the U.S. government’s anti-gun running operations, involving nearly a dozen different agencies. Suffice it to say, either the Brookings’ stat is bogus or the anti-gun running initiatives are a joke. Or both.

“It is a challenge for us,” says Steven Stavinoha, director of [the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s] outbound search operations. He says the agency is revamping its strategy.

Good luck with that.

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