New Data Reinforces Link Between Guns, Violence in Latin America

New US government data tracking the international flow of firearms provides additional evidence that guns remain a driving force behind high levels of violence and insecurity in Latin America.

The National Tracing Center (NTC) of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) released new firearms trace data on August 8. The data covered the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean; Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama in Central America; and also Mexico.

For each region, pistols were the most common type of firearm that authorities traced. Of 2,340 firearms traced in the Caribbean, almost two-thirds were pistols. In Central America and Mexico, that figure was more than 50 percent. 

However, there were differences in individual countries. In Haiti, for instance, shotguns were the most common type of firearm traced by the ATF, followed by pistols. 

The majority of the weapons traced in the Caribbean and Mexico were sourced from the United States. In Central America, on the other hand, roughly 60 percent of the weapons traced were determined to be from non-US suppliers.

The ATF figures are only representative of the sample of the guns that were traced, and may not correlate with overall patterns in each country or region.

InSight Crime Analysis 

The ATF report serves as a reminder that guns are an important factor driving violence in Latin America. Indeed, the rate of homicides committed with firearms in Latin America is often much higher than the national average. Globally, about 41 percent of all homicides are committed with firearms, according to Brazil’s Igarapé Institute. But a 2014 joint study from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) found that 75 percent of homicides in low- and middle-income countries in the Americas — which includes Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras), as well as the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica — were committed with firearms. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

The report also underscores the role played by the United States — the world’s largest arms exporter — in feeding the flow of guns to the region. Mexican officials have previously lamented that guns from the United States fuel criminal violence in their country. And US government reports have suggested that agencies involved in anti-gun trafficking efforts could improve coordination and information sharing in order to better accomplish their objectives.