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What’s Fueling Mexican Violence? American Guns

19.10.30 SOC Guns in MX Blog Visuals

More than 70 percent of guns seized in Mexico from 2013 to 2018 were originally sold in the United States. These guns are wreaking havoc and tearing apart communities in our neighbor to the south.

In two incidents earlier this month, Mexican drug cartels attacked government officials, leaving more than 20 dead and thwarting the authorities’ efforts to capture the son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former cartel leader now serving life in a federal US prison. In both incidents, the heavily armed cartels deployed military-grade .50-caliber sniper rifles powerful enough to take down a helicopter—and to outgun all but the most well-equipped police or military forces.

Criminal networks across Mexico have thwarted the government in these and numerous other cases because the country is awash in illegal guns—most of which come from the United States.

A Country Awash in Illegal Guns

According to official US government data, more than 40 percent of the 500-plus .50-caliber weapons recovered at crime scenes in Mexico between 2010 and 2018 were manufactured by a single US company in Tennessee that specializes in high-caliber sniper rifles.

“We kill each other, and you send the bullets.”

Mexico saw more than 20,000 gun homicides last year—seven times as many gun homicides as 2003. In a country in which 95% of killings go unpunished, citizens across the country are grappling with the record-breaking violence perpetrated with guns that originated in the US.

As one Mexican citizen, lamenting the dynamics of cross-border violence, told the Los Angeles Times, “We kill each other, and you send the bullets.”

Weak Gun Laws in America Mean More Bloodshed in Mexico

Mexico has among the world’s strongest gun laws and only a single legal gun store in the whole country. But Mexico’s strong gun laws are undermined by our lax ones, which make it far too easy for criminals to obtain guns in the US and traffic them south across the border.

That’s particularly true in the American states with the weakest gun laws. A report from the US Government Accountability Office found that over a five-year period, Texas alone accounted for more than 40 percent of illegal guns seized in Mexico. Arizona accounted for another 15 percent. Both of those states earned “F” ratings on Giffords Law Center’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard. Meanwhile, California, a border state with the strongest gun laws in the country and an “A” rating on the Scorecard, has illegal export numbers significantly lower than the border states to its east.

Weak gun laws in Texas and Arizona don’t just contribute to a higher rate of illegal gun exports to Mexico—they also raise gun death rates in those states above the national average. While California has the 6th lowest gun death rate in the country, Arizona has the 18th highest. In Texas, where someone is killed by a gun every three hours, lawmakers have refused to take meaningful action to address gun violence, even after a recent series of devastating mass shootings.

Solutions Exist to Stop the Violence

A recent report from Giffords Law Center provides a detailed blueprint on what laws a state like Texas could pass to save lives—not just in communities like Houston or El Paso, but also across the border in places like the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, which experiences some of the country’s highest rates of gun death. These solutions include laws like universal background checks and extreme risk protection orders, policies which enjoy broad support among the American public.

Legislators in border states like Texas and Arizona have not only an opportunity but also an obligation to take action to prevent the flow of illegal guns that are destroying Mexican families and communities. Let’s hope they have the courage to do so.