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Tons of Arms Flowing into Mexico, But From Where?

Personally, I don’t trust any government, nor do I trust the amorphous “gun lobby” in the United States.  All are filled with overt and hidden agendas.  Huge money flies around.  Having grown up in America, I’m not sure which to disbelieve more: the government agendas, or the private agendas.  I grew up in the South, and was shooting and hunting as a young boy.  By my young twenties, I had become intimately familiar with perhaps a hundred types of small arms.  Having lived in places like Florida, North Carolina, California and Massachusetts, I am extremely well aware of the gun arguments — from various sides — and the high emotions surrounding them.  That intimate knowledge causes me to suspect the gun-fanatics as much as the anti-gun fanatics.  Neither camp can be counted on to tell the good, the bad and the ugly.  None are to be trusted with mere facts, even when actual facts can be found.

In the words of the government: 

DOJ Statement of William Hoover and Anthony Placido (17 March 2009)

Defining the Problem

The southwest border is the principal arrival zone for most illicit drugs trafficked into the U.S., as well as the predominant staging area for the subsequent distribution of these drugs throughout the U.S. Guns are an integral part of these criminal enterprises; they are the “tools of the trade.” Drug traffickers routinely use firearms against each other and have used these weapons against the Mexican military, law enforcement officials, and Mexican civilians. Because firearms are not readily available in Mexico, drug traffickers have aggressively turned to the U.S. as their primary source. Firearms are routinely being transported from the U.S. into Mexico in violation of both U.S. and Mexican law. In fact, according to ATF’s National Tracing Center, 90 percent of the weapons that could be traced were determined to have originated from various sources within the U.S. One thing must remain clear in any discussion of violence in Mexico, or violence practiced by Mexican traffickers operating in the U.S.: drug gangs are inherently violent, and nowhere is this more true than in Mexico, where “Wild West” style shootouts between the criminals and the cops, and elements of opposing trafficking groups are unfortunately considered normal.

To elaborate, the rising incidences of trafficking U.S.-sourced firearms into Mexico is influenced by a number of factors, including increased demand for firearms by drug trafficking organizations, and the strictly regulated and generally prohibited possession and manufacturing of firearms in Mexico. Remarkable amounts of cash are accumulated on the U.S. side of the border and it is believed that, in certain cases, it is used to procure firearms and ammunition that eventually makes their way south to Mexico. Weapons sources typically include secondary markets, such as gun shows and flea markets since—depending on State law—the private sale of firearms at those venues often does not require background checks prior to the sale or record keeping.

Comprehensive analysis of firearms trace data over the past three years indicates that Texas, Arizona and California are the three largest source States, respectively, for firearms illegally trafficked to Mexico. In FY 2007 alone, Mexico submitted approximately 1,112 guns for tracing that originated in Texas, Arizona and California. The remaining 47 States accounted for 435 traces in FY 2007.

It should be noted, though, that while the greatest proportion of firearms trafficked to Mexico originate out of the U.S. along the southwest border, based on successful traces, ATF trace data has established that drug traffickers are also acquiring firearms from other States as far east as Florida and as far north and west as Washington State. A case from April 2008 involving the Arellano Felix Drug Trafficking Organization illustrates this point. A violent dispute between elements of this drug trafficking organization left 13 members dead and 5 wounded. ATF assisted Mexican authorities in tracing 60 firearms recovered at the crime scene in Tijuana. As a result, leads have been forward to ATF field divisions in Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle.

In addition, drug traffickers frequently resort to using “straw purchasers” to gain firearms from federally licensed gun dealers in the U.S., dealers who often are unwitting participants in these schemes. Straw purchases refer to instances wherein an individual purchases a firearm for someone who is either prohibited by law from possessing one, such as a convicted felon, or who does not want his or her name associated with the transaction. In other words, a straw purchase when someone poses as the buyer of a firearm although that person is not the true purchaser and is doing so for someone else who wishes or needs to the law and the creation of a paper trail.

Until recently drug traffickers’ “weapon of choice” had been .38 caliber handguns. However, they now have developed a preference for higher quality, more powerful weapons, such as .223 and 7.62x39mm caliber rifles, 5.7×28 caliber rifles and pistols, and .50 caliber rifles; each of these types of weapons has been seized by ATF in route to Mexico. ATF also has seized large quantities of ammunition for use in these firearms. Drug trafficker’s taste for high-power weaponry is evidenced by a joint ATF, FBI and Tucson Police Department investigation in April 2006. That effort led to the arrest of three members of the aforementioned Arellano Felix Organization for attempting to purchase machineguns and hand grenades from undercover agents.

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MCCaffrey on Mexico

Truth or Dare: Guns to Mexico

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