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Not Just Mexico Smuggling American Guns

Last week’s Government Accountability Office report on the trafficking of U.S. guns to Mexico has inspired quite a backlash from gun enthusiasts who contend it’s “being deliberately misinterpreted by gun prohibitionists to push a gun ban agenda,” according to one voice representative of the outcry.

The report found that 87 percent of guns seized by Mexican authorities and traced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the last five years originated from the United States. The critics, however, say the findings are misleading because (1) a majority of guns confiscated in Mexico are never submitted to be traced by the ATF, (2) many of the U.S.-made guns are turning up, not because they’re being smuggled, but because Mexican soldiers are being recruited (with their old, U.S.-made guns) into the more lucrative world of the drug cartels, and (3) some of the semi-automatic weapons that GAO describes as “high-powered” are actually better suited “for shooting prairie dogs and other varmints.”

In this maelstrom arrives a fascinating piece by Mike Melia of the Associated Press, who reported over the weekend that roughly 80 percent of the crime guns seized and traced by Jamaican authorities also originate from the United States — similar findings coming from another independent analysis of another crime-ridden developing country in close proximity to the United States.

Unlike in Mexico, the vast majority of Jamaican guns seized are submitted for tracing. Jamaica and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives find most of the seized weapons come from three Florida counties — Orange, Dade and Broward — all with large Jamaican populations, according to [Mark Shields, Jamaica's deputy police commissioner].

So there goes the GAO critics’ first argument. U.S. small-arms sales to Jamaica’s tiny military are spare, so the second argument doesn’t hold up very well either. As for the third, well, it’s doubtful that Jamaica has much of a prairie dog problem. Rather, Melia writes that Florida’s “lax” gun laws have simply made it easy for smugglers to buy U.S. weapons and traffic them to the Caribbean.

The U.S. and Jamaica both prohibit the unlicensed transport of guns. But like Mexican smugglers, Jamaican ones depend on lax U.S. gun laws, corrupt customs inspectors and front men acting as buyers. Florida gun laws make it relatively easy to buy a legal firearm, and much of the smuggling is done by family and friends, said Shields, the Jamaican police official.

The results are grisly. “With arsenals to rival police firepower,” Melia writes, “the gangs are blamed for 90 percent of the homicides in Jamaica — 1,611 last year, about 10 times more than the U.S. rate, relative to population.”

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