US gun control laws and Mexico's criminal violence

Mexico's foreign minister has blamed lax US gun control laws for the flood of illegal weapons into the country, in an unusually frank assessment of the impact of US domestic policy on violence and organized crime in Mexico.

Mexico's foreign minister has blamed lax US gun control laws for the flood of illegal weapons into the country, in an unusually frank assessment of the impact of US domestic policy on violence and organized crime in Mexico.

Speaking at the Second Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu said loose gun control laws in the United States have undermined Mexico's own restrictions on gun sales and ownership.

"[Mexico's] efforts are limited by the thousands of illegal weapons that arrive in our country every year from our northern border," she said.

According to the minister, Mexican authorities have traced 70 percent of weapons seized in the country to buyers or distributors in the United States. She added that 60 percent were manufactured in the United States, compared to 30 percent in Europe and 10 percent in the rest of the world.

Ruiz also pointed to the ease with which arms can be bought in the United States, highlighting how there are over 9,000 gun shops and 23,000 licenses have been issued for arms sales in gun fairs and on the internet in the four states bordering Mexico alone. With even supermarkets stocking guns, it is "as easy to get guns as it is to get a liter of milk or a box of cereal," she said.

She also criticized US legislation lifting restrictions on the sales of high caliber assault weapons, which, she said, account for 23,000 of the 40,000 guns decommissioned in Mexico between December 2012 and July 2016.

"This gives transnational criminal organizations enormous firepower that affects both Mexico and the United States and creates a binational challenge," she said.

However, the minister praised US President Barack Obama for his "tenacious and sincere" efforts to strengthen gun control regulations, and highlighted how the two countries are strengthening bilateral efforts to tackle the arms trade by improving cooperation and exchange of information between their different agencies.

Our Analysis
As numerous studies have established, weapons legally purchased in the US have long made up the mainstay of the powerful arsenals assembled by Mexican drug cartels and organized crime networks. Ruiz Massieu nonetheless failed to mention that a significant number of black market weapons are siphoned off from Mexico's security forces.

Although the role of US gun laws in supplying criminal groups south of the border has been well-documented, any attempts to bring even mild reforms face fierce opposition. While Ruiz praises President Obama for his efforts to pass gun control legislation, in reality he has been defeated at every turn, even though the legislation he proposed offered minimal restrictions on gun sales and ownership.

While gun control is a politically explosive issue in the United States, there may also be an economic component of resistance to efforts to control the cross-border arms trade. According to a 2013 study by the Igarapé Institute, almost half of US firearms dealers are economically dependent on the cross-border arms trade.

Gun control legislation is not the only obstacle to preventing cross-border arms control; detection and prosecution of arms traffickers in the United States is also undermined by the institutional weaknesses of the responsible authorities.

Insight Crimre | by James Bargent

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