U.S. Export to Mexico: Murder Weapons
Monday, April 30, 2012
(photo: Julián Aguilar, Texas Tribune)
Just as American drug users get most of their product ultimately from Mexico, Mexican drug cartels get most of the weapons they use from the United States. The drug war in Mexico, which has killed about 50,000 people since 2006, depends not only on the northward flow of narcotics (worth between $19 and $29 billion annually), but also on the corresponding southward flow of weapons imported illegally by the drug cartels from the United States. It was the weapons trade that motivated the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) to initiate a series of attempts, culminating in the infamous “Fast and Furious” operation, to tag and trace the movement of individual arms. The primary results of that failed operation were the resignations of Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson and U.S. attorney Dennis Burke, who supervised the operation on the ground.
Having failed to monitor individual weapons effectively, ATF last week released for the first time a report that tries to evaluate the proportional share, but not the actual volume, of the arms moving south to drug cartel gunmen. It found that of the 99,691 weapons traced from Mexico between 2007 and 2011, 68,161 (68.3%) were manufactured or imported from the U.S. Potentially more alarming is the trend of the cartels toward heavier firepower: from handguns to rifles with detachable magazines, as the share of rifles rose from 28.2 percent in 2007 to 43.3 percent in 2011, while the shares for handguns and shotguns fell.
The new data has given fresh ammunition to those on both sides of the border who want stricter gun regulations as a way to stanch the flow of guns to Mexico. Since last July, the Obama administration has been enforcing a new rule requiring certain gun dealers along the Mexican border to report multiple sales of assault rifles. The fact that the recent study found 68% of seized guns were from the U.S., versus a 2009 Government Accountability Office conclusion that 87% were from the U.S., may suggest that efforts to root out gun trafficking may be having some impact.
Not surprisingly, given the global prominence of the U.S. weapons industry, criminals in other countries also prefer American-made guns. Thus more than 99 percent of the weapons seized for tracing in Canada were of U.S. origin, with a similar situation in the Caribbean, where U.S. guns accounted for 94% of seizures in The Bahamas, 81.3% in the Dominican Republic, 80.8% in Jamaica, 60% in Barbados and 43.3% in Trinidad and Tobago.
To Learn More:
ATF Wades Back into a Touchy Issue (by Aaron Mehta and R. Jeffrey Smith, iWatchNews)
ATF Releases Government of Mexico Firearms Trace Data (ATF press release)
Mexico Firearms Trace Data Report (Office of Strategic Information, ATF) (pdf)
Gun Lobby Suffers Rare Setback in Fight to Sell Weapons to Drug Cartels (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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