Mexico: study says arms smuggling keeps US dealers in business

About 253,000 firearms are bought in the US and transported illegally into Mexico each year, according to estimates published on March 18 by researchers at the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute and the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarapé Institute. The researchers’ report, “The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the US-Mexico Border,” estimates that these sales generate $127.2 million a year in revenue and account for about 2.2% of the annual firearms sales in the US. During 2010-2012 an estimated 46.7% of federally licensed firearm dealers “depended for their economic existence on some amount of demand from the US-Mexico firearms trade to stay in business,” the report says.

The new study’s estimates are much higher than the figures the Mexican and US governments cited in the past. These were based on the number of firearms seized by Mexican authorities; in November 2011, for example, US assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer told the US Senate that of 94,000 firearms seized over the previous five years in Mexico, 64,000 had come from the US. The new estimates were calculated by comparing sales with the dealerships’ proximity to the Mexico-US border and with the size of the population and the average income in the areas they service. Some 6,700 of the 51,300 licensed gun dealers in the US are located in the four states on the southwestern border. “The Mexican demand explains that abundance [of gun shops near the border] and the successful nature of the business,” researcher Robert Muggah said.

US politicians opposed to gun control laws have tried to play down the number of US-made firearms found in Mexico or have blamed their presence on Fast and Furious, a bungled operation by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that allowed some 2,000 guns to slip into Mexico in 2009 and 2010—less than 1% of the annual average, according to the new study’s calculations.

While in the US attention has been focused on controlling assault weapons of the type used in recent mass shootings, a large number of the estimated 50,000-60,000 drug-related homicides in Mexico since the end of 2006 have involved handguns, especially the sort of .38-caliber handgun manufactured in the US. The report proposes that the US federal government ban cash transactions for arms purchases in the border states and institute better background checks to help flag “straw purchasers.” (McClatchy Newspapers, March 18; El País, Madrid, March 21, via Vanguardia, Coahuila)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 24.