Woodrow Wilson Center: ‘U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico: New Data and Insights Illuminate Key Trends and Challenges’

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In a study written by Colby Goodman and Michel Marizco in September 2010, for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Mexico Institute, at the University of San Diego, Goodman and Marizco examine the problem of U.S. arms trafficking to Mexico.

The authors identify the most common firearms purchased in the U.S. and recovered in Mexico: the AK-47 type semi-automatic rifles and AR-15 semi-automatic rifle clones. The authors argue that the way DTOs have made use of these automatic weapons has also changed. Government pursuit of the Mexican cartels has disturbed the equilibrium of power, and now more DTO operatives are willing to use weapons in all-out combat, rather than in selective or targeted killings.

The report admits that even describing the extent of the problem is difficult due to incomplete data from Mexican agencies and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Policy recommendations include further implementation of the e-trace system in Mexico, an electronic system for tracing weapons, which allows Mexican security forces to better submit trace requests to the ATF. Better data would create stronger cases for prosecuting “straw purchasers,” or middlemen arm dealers.

From the report’s executive summary:

This report seeks to answer the following questions: 1) what are the main types of firearms DTOs are using, including those trafficked to Mexico from the United States, and how do these firearms compare with the firepower of Mexican authorities; 2) how are DTOs using these firearms; 3) what are the major methods firearms traffickers are using to buy these weapons and transport them to Mexico; 4) have their been any successes in curbing such firearms trafficking; 5) what are the remaining challenges; and, 6) what can be done to improve efforts to curb U.S. firearms trafficking to Mexico? As there has also been confusion regarding related statistics, the authors have elaborated on what the data shows and what it does not show.

Read full report. (pdf)

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