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I’m not sure what bright spark at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive (and Really Big Fires) came up with the term “Iron River.” Maybe it was a journalist, and the ATF simply glommed on to the term. But it’s an excellent moniker: an easy-to-remember nickname for a trade that no God-fearing, tax-paying, freedom-loving American would support. Who wants thousands of highly deadly assault rifles flowing from the U.S. to Mexico, into the hands of ruthless criminals? Nobody (except maybe evil gun dealers and rapacious gunmakers). So who you gonna call? The ATF! Truth be told, the Iron River was an immediate hit.

Not-so-coincidentally, the ATF picked-up the metaphor and ran with it. Since early last year, the agency’s press releases have constantly made mention of the so-called Iron River. Call it branding, sloganeering, or the Big Lie. Say something often enough and people believe it. If the federal agency charged with policing American gun sales keeps talking about an Iron River of illegal gun sales, if the media repeats the menacing meme like a well-meaning mantra, an iron river there must be.

Not a trickle. A river. A steady flow of weapons, moving from Bob’s Gun Stores (or similar)  to Los Zetas drug cartel (or similar). A river that must be dammed! Because we’re damned if we don’t. Damned by a personage no less prominent than Felipe Calderon, the President of Mexico. Damned, chided and publicly humiliated for our inability to staunch the flow.

Never mind the enormous flow of drugs from Mexico into the United States. Or the most important fuel for the pyre upon which tens of thousands of Mexican have been tortured, raped, killed and discarded: billions of yankee dollars. Nope. Once again, Americans were subjected to the gun control advocates’ favorite and most effective trick: misdirection. The guns! The guns! That’s how we stop the killing! We stop the guns.

The ATF promoted and exploited the idea, lining up in front of Congress, begging bowl in hand, singing Take Me to the River. And they scored. Four new field offices! Dozens of new agents! After spending decades in stasis, watching the FBI double in size and whole new federal law enforcement agencies arise from the ashes of 911, Uncle Sam wrote a check to the ATF. The deeply unloved agency finally had its day in the sun.

Only Project Gunrunner was built on a lie.

As any good marketer will tell you, all brands start with the product. A brand is a nothing more than a promise. Coca-Cola will refresh you. Lexus will cosset you in luxury. Smith & Wesson will protect you. The more deeply and completely the brand’s products fulfill that promise, the stronger the brand. The “Iron River” brand was built on a promise that the ATF would nab the bad guys, just like Elliott Ness. Only there were no bad guys. No cigar-chomping gun smuggling kingpins against which the ATF could send its SRT team.

In fact, there was no Iron River of guns period. The ATF “sold” the idea to Congress, the public and (let’s face it) themselves based on firearms traces from the Mexican authorities. The ATF claimed that 90 percent of the guns seized from Mexican drug cartels by Mexican law enforcement officers in 2008 came from the U.S. Right from the git-go, there was plenty of evidence of that the ATF’s Iron River brand was nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Here’s the analysis from, posted in July, before the ATF got its wicked way with your tax money.

According to the [GAO] report [based on data provided by the ATF], some 30,000 firearms were seized from criminals by Mexican officials in 2008. Out of these 30,000 firearms, information pertaining to 7,200 of them, (24 percent) was submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for tracing. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

This means that the 87 percent figure comes from the number of weapons submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF that could be successfully traced and not from the total number of weapons seized by the Mexicans or even from the total number of weapons submitted to the ATF for tracing. The 3,480 guns positively traced to the United States equals less than 12 percent of the total arms seized in 2008 and less than 48 percent of all those submitted by the Mexican government to the ATF for tracing.

Here’s another crucial fact that somehow missed the cut: the average American-sourced gun traced by the ATF on behalf of the Mexicans in 2008 was 14-years-old. That’s the average age. What are the odds that drug cartels awash in cash are going to deploy twenty-year-old American weapons in their blood-soaked wars against the federales and each other? In fact, where was the list of confiscated weapons? The veil of secrecy surrounding the stats spoke volumes about the integrity of the ATF’s branding exercise.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of a product can spot a faked brand easily enough. A fake Rolex doesn’t look like a real Rolex. A fake Iron River doesn’t look like a real gun smuggling epidemic either. Stratfor revisited the Mexican gun smuggling issue yesterday, using the term “myth” to describe the trade that the ATF swears up, down and sideways is still a scourge. As TTAG reported, a sampling of gun confiscations by the the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency indicates that the Iron River is nothing but a trickle. If that.

Yesterday, the embattled head of the ATF re-asserted the agency’s claim that the Iron River exists, repeating the claim that his agency had seized over 10,000 guns headed for Mexico in the last five years. Kenneth Melson didn’t provide one scintilla of evidence. The move tells us that the ATF’s Iron River brand is facing some increasing stiff competition: Gunwalker.

That’s the name writer David Cordrea’s given to the scandal in which the ATF stands accused of enabling if not encouraging gun smuggling to Mexico. In specific, the ATF is charged with turning a blind eye to the sale of WASR-10 rifles, two of which were used to kill U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Melson’s confronted the competition in the grand tradition of The Wizard of Oz. Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain. THERE IS AN IRON RIVER!

No there isn’t. There are armies of criminals south of the border who sell drugs, oil, and anything else that’ll earn them money, and then buy rifles from the same place they get grenades: the Mexican police, the Mexican military, eastern Europe, China, South America and anywhere else where there aren’t five major U.S. federal agencies trying to interdict their supply. Any guns headed south from U.S. gun stores are statistically insignificant. Round the number down to zero. Gunwalker is real. The Iron River is not. And yet . . .

Senator Grassley recently released documents showing that one of the ATF’s stooges, the man who bought the weapons used to kill Agent Terry, purchased two .50 caliber rifles. The main, perhaps only reason Mexican drug gangs would want a .50 caliber rifle: to take out a truck. Or a helicopter. Now you could say .50 caliber rifles don’t take out armored personnel carriers or choppers, drug smugglers do. And you’d be right. But if we believe that people should be held accountable for their actions, then we must hold ourselves, and our federal employees, to the same standard.

It’s time to pull the plug on the ATF. The ATF has been supplying guns to Mexico. What more do you need to know? The Iron River is a fiction. But they’re right about one thing: it must be stopped. The ATF must be stopped. Pulled off the case. Exposed as the institutionally corrupt organization that it is. Demoted to a department within the IRS from whence it came. Dissed, dismissed and yes, dismantled. But we can change! they may protest, once the Gunwalker scandal hits the mainstream media. To which I can only reply: cry me a river.

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  1. Of these 7,200 guns, only about 4,000 could be traced by the ATF, and of these 4,000, some 3,480 (87 percent) were shown to have come from the United States.

    Gee, that’s awful close the ~3000 guns the BATFE&RBFs lost.

  2. Why No One Should Ever Trust the ATF: There Is No Iron River

    Well, I have another reason: they’re jackbooted thugs with guns, badges and federal immunity. Or is that three reasons?

  3. Atf like all goverment agencies that get there finding fron are goverment. In way they all do that buy make case that thing are so bad that they need more money power combat issues there agencies is for. That why DEA never seem be win war on drugs. FBI all complain never has enough man power money combat threats are county have. CIA all cry about why never has enough funding fight off threats to are counrty. They all do same thing that Aft did above in the photo put dog pony show on to why they need more funding power. Put photo show on so people ingor fact there not do such hot job Mexico. Might help if Mexican police where not lose there guns (more like selling them)to drug dealers . That goverment keep arming Mexican police who in turn keep arming drug dealers with gun give to them fight them. But Atf never gone tell side story.

  4. Look, they found a .303 Lee-Enfield, and a scoped hunting rifle. Touching.

    If these morons seized a Red Ryder BB gun, I’m sure they would display it along with the RPG-7s, hand grenades, and belt-fed machineguns, for the sake of impressing the ignorant and easily scared.

  5. ATF’s eTrace system wasn’t designed to collect statistics, but this doesn’t stop ATF from quoting statistics from the system to describe their mythical “iron river of guns” flowing to Mexico from the United States.

    In their many overzealous press releases, ATF fails to address misleading factors in their tracing statistics. For example, when talking about American origin guns which have been recovered in Mexico, ATF fails to address:

    1. American guns legitimately sold to the Mexican military.

    2. American guns legitimately and commercially exported to the Mexican gun shop in Mexico City.

    3. American guns legitimately sold to Mexican police – at the Federal, state or local level.

    4. American guns legitimately sold to Mexican banks, private security firms, or any other companies.

    5. American guns legitimately sold to other Mexican government entities.

    6. American guns legitimately sold to police, military, security companies or private parties in other countries, then smuggled into Mexico.

    7. American guns exported to Mexico many years ago. Remember that the average age of traced guns from Mexico is over 14 years. AVERAGE!

    8. Foreign guns with American markings which were never imported into the United States for any number of reasons. Yes, this happens.

    9. Counterfeit guns made elsewhere with fake American markings. ATF has acknowledged this is a problem.

    10. Frequently, pictures of seized Mexican guns show many American .22 rimfire rabbit rifles and sporting shotguns. Are these included in ATF statistics? ATF isn’t talking.

    ATF doesn’t seem interested in producing meaningful statistics that will help identify and quantify the problem. No, they prefer broad misleading generalizations that sound good in Congressional budget hearings. Remember the now famous (and false) 90% figure?

    ATF likes to talk about the guns “preferred” by cartels – but remember that the tracing system wasn’t designed to collect statistics. These types of guns only represent the guns ATF decides to trace.

    I could go on……

  6. They forgot to mention the “cash river” of American dollars in the form of illegal immigrant income that gets piped down there and the “illegal river” that comes here, steals jobs, and robs, rapes and pillages. Guess that’s not as important as drug gangs killing corrupt Mexican police (which for the most part aren’t much more than another organized crime organization themselves.)

  7. “Ike” makes some INCREDIBLY GOOD points, but there’s more…

    Like everything else when dealing with jackbooted .gov gangsters, we must ignore what they WANT us to look at, and pay attention to the clues they fail to adequately hide.

    The average age is over 14 years?

    Many may not know, but our .gov and .mil use programs similar to WW2’s “lend-lease” – and even outright giveaways – to dispose of older, surplus equipment. This is how every backwater PD in the US came to have night-vision, body-armor and armored personnel carriers.

    As part of the “war on (some) drugs” they’ve been arming the Mexican .mil with our cast-off M-16 rifles for decades. The is notorious for its soldiers’ tendency to desert, going to work for the cartels, and taking their issued rifle with them!

    Whaddya suppose a good pile of VN-era M16 rifles would do to the “average age” of weapons found in mexico?

    Hmmmmmm….. go figure.

    Then you must also consider the untold millions of full-auto AK rifles that have been used in any of South America’s bloody revolutions in the last several decades, and ask yourself “why would someone as intelligent as these cartels must be take all the risks involved to pay $600+ for a neutered, semi-auto AK-style rifle when they can have a full-auto rock-and-roll genuine version – out of South America – for the literal price of A CHICKEN??!!

    They wouldn’t.

    Yes, some guns are bought in the US and smuggled South. Compared to all the other sources — most notably our own .gov via THEIR .gov — the number is negligible.

    What is far *MORE* likely is that these US guns are being given to illegal aliens IN THE US who are in the employ of the cartels. Anyone paying attention would note that Agent Terry was killed IN THE US — so these “straw-purchased” guns at least remained in the US, in the hands of non-government criminals.


  8. What about all the other atrocities perpetrated by the ATF? Waco, Ruby Ridge, just to name two. I remember some years back they slammed a gun owners pregnant wife into a wall causing a miscarriage while they tossed her husbands rare expensive guns on the cement floor because he goofed up on some paperwork. Then there was an agent out on the town getting drunk with some other agents, shot and killed a strip club owner for not letting them come in. Never heard anymore about that one. How much longer will we have to pay for this illegal out law lying bunch of scum before they are disbanded?

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