A phrase being used by the "news" media regarding the recent arrest of people in Columbus, NM is "firearms favored by the Mexican cartels", referring to their purchase of AK47s and other semiautomatics; weapons that are in fact favored by many people who want a good weapon for a reasonable price. I'm trying to name the fallacy, and "guilt by association" and "red herring" come to mind but aren't really a good fit.

I've read this thread, but can't really match it to the situation. I've also looked through many of the fallacies at the Nizkor Project and logicalfallacies.info and can't see a good match. Any ideas?

It could be rewritten for clarity:

Person P bought weapons A and B.
A and B are favored by the Mexican drug cartels.
Therefore, P bought the weapons with intent to distribute them to the Mexican drug cartels.


TV tropes calls it Hitler ate sugar. It also says it's called "The Association Fallacy".

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    "premise A is a B; premise A is also a C; therefore all Bs are Cs". I like that; it maps somewhat well into "drug cartels like AK47s; drug cartels smuggle drugs and kill innocent people; therefore anyone who likes AK47s must be smuggling drugs and killing innocent people". +1 – jcomeau_ictx Mar 13 '11 at 2:27
  • after all this time, I've decided it matches best an association fallacy, although I can see elements of all the other fallacies mentioned. what the ATF is trying to do, through the news media, is to associate the defendants with the cartels using this choice of wording. – jcomeau_ictx Apr 6 '11 at 4:29

You might be looking for affirming the consequent.

People who would illegally sell weapons to foreign drug gangs would be more likely to purchase available weapons that the gangs preferred. That does not mean that everybody who purchased weapons that the drug gangs preferred intended to sell them illegally to the gangs.

However, it might add to a prosecution case if there was also other evidence, such as preparations to smuggle weapons across a national border.

  • Thanks, Henry, but I don't see that there's an "if Q, therefore P" argument being used here. It's more of "if A and B, then C", where B is used to predispose someone to accept conclusion C, when there are other equally valid, but totally different, conclusions. – jcomeau_ictx Mar 13 '11 at 0:01
  • There may be other conclusions. It really depends on how much of the indictment can be proved. Counts 43-84 involve allegations of smuggling. Counts 2-42 involve allegations of false statements when purchasing firearms. Count 1 is an allegation of conspiracy. – Henry Mar 13 '11 at 1:13
  • rereading your answer, and the way you worded it, it's clearer to me now. thanks, and +1 – jcomeau_ictx Mar 13 '11 at 1:19
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    +1 I think this answer makes sense. If someone is part of a Mexican drug cartel, they buy these weapons. X bought these weapons. Therefore, X is part of a Mexican drug cartel. – Tragicomic Mar 14 '11 at 11:48

How about "tarred with the same brush"? It's a little awkward when applied to firearms, but I think it fits.

  • Thanks Zippy, but Wiktionary says it means "To characterize using the same undesirable attribute, especially unjustly." What would be the undesirable attribute in this case? – jcomeau_ictx Mar 13 '11 at 0:37
  • Their undesirable attribute would be their particular appeal to Mexican cartels. – Zippy Mar 13 '11 at 0:44
  • but the guns don't have a particular appeal to Mexican cartels; that is the false assertion of the media. they have a general appeal to anyone who wants a reliable but inexpensive weapon. – jcomeau_ictx Mar 13 '11 at 0:49
  • But Mexican cartels did choose this particular gun-- probably for the very generic reasons you point out. Even if they did it randomly, the fact is that they did not choose other guns that have similar qualities, but this one. In this context, it is not incorrect to state that AK47s are favored by Mexican cartels. What is incorrect is to imply that they are choosing AK47s because they are the best drug cartel guns. – Zippy Mar 13 '11 at 1:06
  • +1 for persistence! I'll have to think about it some more... you make a good case. – jcomeau_ictx Mar 13 '11 at 1:16

I agree with your original hypothesis of guilt by association.

  • that link is quite supportive, isn't it? +1 -- and yet, saying "the cartels favor AK47s, so you should not" isn't really the same as "the cartels favor AK47s, so if you buy them you must be buying for the cartels". – jcomeau_ictx Mar 13 '11 at 0:54

This is related to the problem of induction taking form in the presentation that the Mexican cartels have weapons that are as evil as those who are using them. This dehumanizes the eventual casualties by the media as well as reassures/reinforces for the population an idea that the Mexican Cartel in question has any entailment to the actual situation. The classic misuse of entailment and inductive reasoning are being utilized here and it is thus, propaganda.

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