Globe, Latin America

Arms from the U.S. fuel violence in Mexico

Both countries should assume responsibility for the illegal drug trade. However, the ‘Northern’ country doesn’t seem to share this view, and instead its actions only seem to exacerbate the illegal flow of drugs, money, and arms.


Orlando Oramas León


In 2017, Mexico experienced one of the most violent years of its recent past, with the highest number of murders in the last twenty years. The majority of these deaths were caused by firearms that were either made in the USA or imported from there.

Figures from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (Sesnsp) show that there has been a worrying rise in the number of firearm-related murders. If the ratio of murders committed using firearms was around 15% in 1997, by 2007 this figure had increased to 39%. By 2016, however, the ratio had reached 61% and a year later, in 2017, it exceeded 66%.

According to official statistics, the use of firearms in instances of violent robberies has also increased in Mexico.

In 2005, 58% of robberies involved the use of a firearm, whereas by 2017 this figure increased to 68%.

The presidential candidate José Antonio Meade, in a statement backed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, currently in government), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and the Citizens’ Movement, highlighted that behind the high levels of violence was the traffic of arms into the hands of criminal groups.

In a recent meeting with officially accredited foreign correspondents, Meade stated that there are between 500,000 and 1,000,000 firearms in the country. A good proportion of these firearms make up the arsenals of the drug cartels that vie for control of the drug markets and supply routes.

The government’s candidate for the 1 July elections has put a lot of emphasis on and allocated countless resources to the combatting drug trafficking, but he also stressed the importance of preventing arms entering the country from their northern neighbour, the world’s leading firearms producer, whence an estimated 200,000 arms pour into Mexico annually.

For the Center for American Progress (CAP), a US think tank, the consequences of firearms trafficking from the USA to Mexico have been ‘devastating’.

According the a report publish by CAP, of the 106,000 firearms recovered by the Mexican authorities in criminal investigations between 2011 and 2016, 70% of them had originally between legally purchased in the United States.

These figures come from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), however they represent only a fraction of the total number of arms that pass through Mexico’s northern border.

‘Criminal organisations in Mexico use firearms in order to fight the brutal wars they wage against other criminal gangs and government security forces, as well as to extort the civilian population. Many of the weapons used by these groups originate from the United States’, CAP noted. Drugs cartels tend to prefer rifles such as AK-47s and AR-17s for their great versatility and firepower, both of which can easily be converted into automatic assault weapons.

The majority of the firearms seized in Mexico originate from three U.S. states that border Mexico: Texas, Arizona and California.

The lax laws relating to the control and sale of arms in the U.S. undoubtedly play a role in this issue, particularly when compared to the more restrictive Mexican laws, which are undermined by the porous northern border and the profits on offer from illegal contraband.

“The arms traffickers take advantage of the relatively low prices of firearms in the United States, and the ease with which they can be bought, before trafficking them to neighbouring countries and reselling them for a healthy profit, creating significant threats to the public security situation of these countries in the process”.

This is how CAP presents the situation in their report entitled ‘Beyond Our Borders: How Weak U.S. Gun Laws Contribute to Violent Crime Abroad’.

‘The United States has a moral obligation to mitigate its participation in the increase of lethal violence abroad’, Chelsea Parsons, the co-author of the piece, commented on the matter. ‘Although there are many factors exclusive to each country that impact levels of violent crime, the United States could be doing more to reduce the threat posed by U.S.-produced firearms that cross the border and are used to carry out criminal activities in nearby countries’, the daily newspaper El Universal argued.

Donald Trump, however, has yet to speak on the issue. Since the start of his electoral campaigns he has warned about the threats against the USA, especially from developing countries such as Mexico.

Declarations and statements on the matter are a recurring theme on the Trump’s social media accounts.

In one of the most recent examples, he asserted that the Mexican government isn’t doing enough to stop the flow of drugs into his country, condemning the ‘millions addicted and dying’.

The outburst was worthy of a response from the Mexican Foreign Minister, Luis Videgaray: “Both Mexico and the United States must share responsibility for illegal drug trafficking, and our cooperation on the issue must be guided by this principle. Only by working together on the supply and demand can we put an end to the illegal flow of drugs, money and arms between our countries”. (PL)

(Translated by Matthew Rose – Email:

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