Researchers at the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute and Brazil’s Igarapé Institute put together a groundbreaking model to determine why Mexico, which possesses some of the toughest gun laws in the world, is so awash in firearms. In constructing their report — Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border — the authors used the number of Federal firearms licenses (FFL) issued to sell small arms to create a demand curve, based on the distance by road from the seller to the nearest point on the U.S.-Mexico border to estimate a total demand for trafficking, both in terms of guns sold and the amount the industry took in.
Their results? A much larger number of U.S. guns circulating in Mexico than occurred under the now-lapsed federal Assault Weapons Ban, with an estimated 253,000 firearms purchased per year to be trafficked to Mexico between 2010 and 2012. Somewhere between 0.9 and 3.7 percent of all gun sales in the U.S. can be attributed to trafficking to Mexico, a rise from the amount in 1993. Most shocking, an estimated 46.7 percent of all FFLs issued “during 2010-2012 depended for their economic existence on some amount of demand from the U.S.-Mexico firearms trade to stay in business,” a number that has also risen since 1993.
“It is important to note that the PAF [model used in this study] does not tell us the volume of total U.S. demand for firearms attributable to U.S.-Mexico traffic,” the report cautions. “Rather, it estimates a percentage of FFLs that would go out of business if the distance from Mexico were to be increased to the maximum within the continental United States.” In other words, based on the researcher’s interpretation of the data, and making assumptions on profit margins in the firearms industry, they are of the belief that given their model almost half of all gun dealers would close down if moved as far away from the Mexican border as possible, due to lowered demand.
This research helps further explain Mexico’s 16 percent surge in homicides seen following the expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban in the U.S. The study’s authors recommend several steps that can be taken to reduce the amount of gun trafficking across the border, including increasing background checks to help identify straw purchasers. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans — including Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) who denied a trafficking problem exists — blocked such a provision when voting down gun law reforms this year.
Mexico has been waging a war against drug cartels and other organized crime for years, a conflict in which over 70,000 people have died according to some estimates — mostly civilians caught in the cross-fire or the victims of cartel executions. The Mexican government hasn’t been able to staunch the violence and in some ways has only made it worse, including facilitating “enforced disappearances” of civilians.
President Obama recently traveled to Mexico to meet with newly inaugurated President Enrique Pena Nieto about a variety of issues, including the ongoing violence. While there, Obama spoke in Mexico City, defending America’s Second Amendment, but promising to “do everything in my power to pass common sense gun reforms that keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people — reforms that will save lives in both our countries.” Obama added, “Meanwhile, we’ll keep increasing the pressure on the gun traffickers who bring illegal guns into Mexico, and we’ll keep putting these criminals where they belong—behind bars.” (HT: U.S. Institute of Peace)