Rep. Eliot Engel of New York recently held a hearing in his House Foreign Affairs subcommittee about the Government Accountability Office report on American guns being trafficked to criminals across our southern border into Mexico.
That hearing included an exchange between Ranking Member Connie Mack, Jr. from Florida and Jess Ford of the GAO - the single witness called to present the report's findings.
I present that exchange at length below [available from Lexis and here] because I believe it reveals the shallowness of the opposition to requiring criminal background checks for nearly all gun sales and to restricting access to military-style assault weapons. These are measures that would slow the flow of illegal guns - not just to Mexico, but right here within the United States.
Rather than argue about percentages, let's focus on the fact that 20,000 trafficked guns from America have ended up at Mexican crime scenes.
With that kind of information, I hope our opposition will now acknowledge there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed:
...REP. MACK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And as I mentioned in my opening statement, I'm having a little bit of difficulty in -- or having any confidence, real confidence, in the [GAO] report.
It's not to say that I don't think some of the recommendations that you come up with might be good ones. But I don't know that the report itself is something that we should put a lot of value in.
I would -- most of the things that you have talked about, most of the numbers you've talked about has been based upon the number of guns that you were able to trace. And we know that a majority of those guns that are -- that you're able to trace are the ones that come from the U.S. But that leaves out a majority of the guns that are being seized.
So I'd ask, how many guns were you able to trace to Cuba or Venezuela or Bolivia or Ecuador or from other continents? That would be a question that I'd have for you.
Also, in -- you know, just I think two days ago we were at another hearing together where you had said that Radio or TV Marti -- that less than 1 percent of the people in -- or Cubans see it. And I suggested then that how could you do -- how would you even contemplate that someone -- a Cuban would answer the phone and say, "Yes, I watch TV Marti," when they're in Cuba living under a brutal dictatorship?
So these two things -- this report and that report -- I'm having a hard time having any kind of real confidence in the report itself.
So if you could comment on how many of the weapons do we know come from Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador? ....
MR. FORD: Okay, well, let me maybe respond first to the issue of the data that you indicate you believe the way we portrayed that information is flawed. I don't agree with that conclusion.
What we've got is a summary of information that came from ATF. It's ATF data. It's not GAO data. The ATF data is based on guns that were identified and traced from Mexico. As we clearly state in our report, that represents approximately a quarter of the guns that the Mexican government reported that they seized in 2008. So we clearly identify that in the report.
Secondly, the -- with regard to -- the data is the data. It's 20,000 guns. Those guns --
REP. MACK: Let me just say this: So it would be -- so you would also say that to say that 90 percent or 95 percent of the guns in Mexico are coming from the U.S. is false? That is not an accurate statement?
MR. FORD: That's right.
And we don't say that.
REP. MACK: Right. But other people are saying that.
MR. FORD: Well --
REP. MACK: I think it's important that -
MR. FORD: -- our report does not say that. Our report clearly states the facts.
The facts are it's 90 percent of the guns that were traced, that we were able -- that the Mexican government and ATF were able to send back here to be traced by ATF. It does not represent the 75 percent of the guns that we don't know where they came from because they were never submitted for trace. That's clearly stated in our report. So if someone's misreporting that, you know, that's not my problem. But our report is based on the facts.
The second thing that I think is more important in this is -- and the thing that I think that you all should be concerned about is, regardless of whether we know the -- 100 percent of all of the guns that have been seized in Mexico -- where they came from, I think we should be concerned by the fact that 20,000 of those guns we know for sure came from here....
But the data that we used in our report we believe is sound. And we do believe that further effort actually to expand tracing in Mexico will shed further light on this issue if in fact we can get the Mexican government to send more traces here....
As I said when the GAO released their report, it should be clear that America's weak gun laws pose not only a public safety crisis here at home, but also a foreign policy crisis across our southern border.
In fact, while I wish I could say I was surprised by the GAO's findings in their report, researchers at the Brady Center reached many of the same conclusions almost four months earlier in a report of their own, 'Exporting Gun Violence: How Our Weak Gun Laws Arm Criminals in Mexico and America.'
With 20,000 illegal guns from America recovered at crime scenes in Mexico over the last five years, there is no excuse for Congress and the President not to take steps now to close the gun show loophole in the Brady background check system and give America's law enforcement the tools it needs to protect public safety.
As the exchange in Rep. Engel's hearing demonstrates, there is no reason why the gun lobby and their defenders should further dictate gun policy in this country if they persist in refusing to acknowledge that there is even a gun trafficking problem.