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Shedding Light on the ‘Iron River’: Stemming Firearms Trafficking Across Our Southern Border

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In recent years, thousands of military-style rifles and other firearms have been purchased in the United States and trafficked over our southern border, ultimately ending up in the hands of Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). If the U.S. is to hold true to its promise of being a good neighbor, we know that bold moves must be made to effectively stem this illicit flow of U.S.-sourced firearms into Mexico.  Yet the question arises:  What steps need to be taken to achieve this?  

Two recent studies released by the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based advocacy organization targeting gun violence issues, offer a comprehensive look at the illegal trafficking of firearms from the U.S. civilian gun market to Mexico. The studies also advocate for curbing the illegal trafficking through a combination of administrative and legal policy measures.

The first report, Iron River: Gun Violence and Illegal Firearms Trafficking on the U.S.-Mexico Border, provides an in-depth look at how the U.S. gun market plays a major role in facilitating the brutal violence in Mexico. The report includes congressional testimony of an ATF official who noted that “Mexican drug trafficking organizations have aggressively turned to the U.S. as a source of firearms. These weapons are used against other DTOs, the Mexican military, Mexican and U.S. law enforcement officials, as well as innocent civilians on both sides of the border. Our comprehensive analysis of firearms trace data over the past three years shows that Texas, Arizona, and California are the three primary source states respectively for U.S.-sourced firearms illegally trafficked into Mexico. Recently, the weapons sought by drug trafficking organizations have become increasingly higher quality and more powerful.”

Their latest report, Mexico Indicted: Types of Firearms and Methods of Gun Trafficking from the United States to Mexico as Revealed in U.S. Court Documents, looks at indictments and criminal information filed in U.S. district courts in the Southwest, providing evidence that indeed the “military-style semiautomatic assault weapons” available on the U.S. civilian gun market are trafficked to cartels, and with great ease. Most of these guns “are available at gun stores, sporting-goods stores, Wal-Marts, hundreds of gun shows, and tens of thousands of virtually unregulated private dealers across the U.S…with little more than an ID, money, and a limited degree of ambition virtually anyone can use the U.S. civilian gun market to easily outfit their own army.”

The recommendations for the Obama administration and Congress cited in the reports include “resuming enforcement of the existing ban on the importation of semiautomatic assault weapons“, requiring the administration to “work with Congress to repeal the current restrictions on release of ATF crime gun trace data”, and urging Congress to “implement an effective assault weapons ban.”  We recommend that you check out this research on illegal trafficking and the recommendations on engaging the administration and Congress on the issue.