Weapons seized by Mexican officials

Cooperation between Mexican and U.S. authorities on arms trafficking has dropped off in recent years, even as traffickers continue to move huge quantities of arms across the border while taking advantage of legal loopholes.

Since Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, cooperation between the U.S. and Mexican authorities on ending arms trafficking has decreased, reported the Global Post. The Global Post cites a January 2016 United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that noted that in 2011, US officials evaluated 22,097 guns seized in Mexico, compared to just 15,142 in 2014.

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According to officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) this shift in the numbers does not necessarily mean that there are fewer guns being trafficked to Mexico. Instead, it likely points to a fluctuation in cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico.

The GAO noted that in 2011, when the number of guns evaluated by the U.S. was the highest, the Mexican government had widely implemented a software program called Etrace which allows Mexican officials to enter information on seized weapons for U.S. officials to evaluate. However, in 2012, when Peña Nieto took office, he pulled access to the program for many Mexican officials. This was part of Peña Nieto's broader strategy to reevaluate law enforcement cooperation with the U.S. 

On the U.S. side, the GAO report also points to continued hesitation by U.S officials to collaborate with Mexican officials due to perceived corruption.

Some analysts believe that the decrease in collaboration is a sign of lack of political will: "I don't get any sense of 'the fierce urgency of now' from any of the parties on the Mexican or US side when it comes to dealing with the issue," Joy Olson, executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) told Global Post.

Insight Crime Analysis

Lack of political will and cooperation may be part of the reason that up to 85 percent of the 15 million guns in Mexico are illegal, but other factors also play a role.

Legal loopholes make it easier for innovative traffickers to import guns. The GAO report details how gunrunners now legally buy firearm parts which they smuggle to Mexico and assemble there.

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Other reports have noted how loopholes in U.S. laws regarding foreign guns have allowed traffickers to move Romanian and Bulgarian weapons into Mexico.

In addition, illegal trafficking from external providers is hardly the only source of weapons in Mexico. Mexico's legal arms imports grew by 331 percent over the last five years, compared to 2006-2010. Paulina Arriaga, the director of gun control advocacy group Desarma Mexico, told the Global Post that Mexican tracking of legal firearms is "rudimentary" at best, making it is easy for these legal weapons to slip into the illicit market.