Lack of US Gun Control Contributes to Violence Abroad

This article was researched and written by Madalyn Sailors, our 2023 Summer Fellow for International Issues

In July, the Mexican government continued its efforts to hold U.S. gun manufacturers responsible for facilitating the trafficking of weapons to drug cartels across the U.S.-Mexico border. It urged a U.S. appeals court to revive a $10 billion lawsuit against seven weapons manufacturers and one distributor. When presented with information about U.S. arms production contributing to Mexico’s gun trafficking, U.S. Circuit Judge William Kayatta asked, “What’s wrong with it?”  

The availability of U.S.-made guns in Latin America plays a role in dangerous crime rates and contributes to the root causes of migration. People flee the rising gun violence in their home countries, increasing the number of those who come to the U.S. seeking asylum. The better question may be, who benefits from the lack of gun regulation? (answer: major arms producers)

The United States is a leading contributor to the availability of small arms throughout Mexico and Central and Latin America. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, Mexico estimates that over 200,000 firearms flow into the country from the U.S. per year. And the Governmental Accountability office reports that “70 percent of firearms reported to have been recovered in Mexico from 2014 through 2018 and submitted for tracing were U.S. sourced.” These arms have been linked primarily to drug trafficking and over 60% of Central America’s homicides

Unfortunately, the policies by Latin American countries that mandate formal gun licensing processes are insufficient to prevent gun violence. According to 2018 estimates, civilians in Central America collectively possessed over 60 million firearms. In many Latin American countries, the number of unregistered guns exceeds that of registered guns. The trafficking of arms from the U.S. permits the presence of this black market for firearms. Worse, some corrupt governments may be enabling the delivery of these arms to organized criminal groups. 

One way to decrease the problem of trafficked weapons to Latin America would be to implement an assault weapons ban in the United States. These guns, already responsible for many mass shootings in the United States, play a significant role in regional gun violence through illegal transport. The US could revise its Memorandum of Understanding with Mexico to increase trace data permissions, including monitoring information regarding these arms’ production and transport. Communication between the U.S. federal agencies and Mexican and Central American governments is crucial to creating change. 

It is also vital to implement stronger regulations on export procedures. There are currently several pieces of legislation in the U.S. Congress that would support these gun control measures. The ARMAS Act would require “developing a comprehensive interagency strategy to disrupt trafficking and diversion of firearms exported from the United States.” The Gun Restoration and Preservation Act would require the FBI and ATF to collect, preserve, and disclose gun records and tracing data to better aid investigations.

A robust domestic gun control policy is necessary to implement successful strategies for gun control abroad. The current lack of regulation harms the United States and its citizens and contributes to violence and crime in Mexico and Central and Latin America. By taking responsive action to strengthen our gun policy and respond to its current implications in neighboring countries, the U.S. would contribute to a future free of violence for all.

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