Step Forward to Halt Arms Trafficking over U.S.-Mexico Border

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Last month, a congressional report noted that a staggering 70% of the weapons recovered in Mexico in 2009 and 2010— and submitted for tracing— originated in the United States, overwhelmingly from Southwest border states. The controversial and highly flawed ATF Operation Fast and Furious has drawn attention to not just the staggering number of firearms that flow over our southern border, but to loopholes and shortcomings in our policies surrounding firearms purchases that have enabled straw purchasers (people who claim to buy weapons for themselves, but then pass them on to criminal groups) and other gun traffickers in the U.S. to channel thousands of weapons to organized crime in Mexico.   

 No question, the southward flow of firearms is a longstanding, unchecked problem, and has fueled the violence that has cost roughly 40,000 lives in Mexico since 2006. As a step forward, earlier this month the Obama administration approved a new reporting rule that requires  firearms dealers in southwest border states— California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas— to report if an individual tries to purchase two or more semi-automatic rifles  with a removable magazine over a five-day period to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).  
Weapons acquired in the U.S. are a boon for transnational criminal organizations, and increasingly destructive to communities on both sides of the border. Expanding and improving measures to ensure that military-style firearms do not end up the hands of criminals just makes sense. 

The growing national peace and justice movement in Mexico, which is mobilizing for an end to the violence, wholeheartedly agrees. Last month, civil society groups in Mexico initiated a petition urging President Obama to be a part of the solution for a more peaceful Mexico by taking three simple steps to reduce gun smuggling to Mexico. One of their requests? Requiring gun dealers to report to the ATF the sale of multiple assault rifles.

Rather predictably, soon after this new rule was announced, several members of Congress initiated efforts to cut funding for implementation of this new reporting requirement and the National Rifle Association vowed to sue the Obama Administration to halt this new rule. 

Given the pushback that will undoubtedly intensify, there is no question that people concerned about halting the bloodshed that has affected communities and families across Mexico—as well as the U.S.—need to make their voices heard. Of course, this new rule is far from a cure-all, but it is a useful step in the right direction for the United States to fulfill its commitment to combat firearms smuggling to Mexico. For the safety and wellbeing of communities on both sides of the border, let’s work to make sure this useful step isn’t the last step.