Mexico, U.S. to step up efforts against firearms smuggling

Border Crime

Border cities at center of planned actions against gun runners

** FILE ** In this Dec. 18, 2008 file photo, members of an alleged kidnapping gang are shown with their weapons to the media in Tijuana, Mexico. Mexico insists the U.S. do more to stop a little-publicized form of border smuggling that is arming the world’s most powerful drug cartels with U.S. assault rifles. Cartels have killed more than 1,000 people so far this year south of the border. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Firearms seizures have increased steadily in the past three years along the Southwestern border, but the number of confiscated weapons is tiny compared to how many guns used to commit crimes in Mexico are traced back to the United States.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports that 185 firearms and 153,498 rounds of ammunition were seized in Fiscal Year 2018, compared to 115 seizures of contraband guns and rifles and 64,985 bullets and shells in FY 2017. A total of 89 firearms and 91,952 ammo units were seized in Fiscal Year 2016.

A widely-cited 2016 General Accountability Office (GAO) report says that 73,684 firearms seized in Mexico between 2009 and 2014 came from the United States. That comes up to an average of 33.6 U.S.-made or U.S.-bought weapons coming to Mexico every day during that six-year period.

The issue is back in the news this week, as Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday agreed to conduct joint operations to stem the flow of guns from the U.S. into Mexico.

“There is an increase in weapons used (in crimes) in Mexico. The use of small arms is up 9 percent, rifles up 9 percent, automatic rifles up 63 percent and assault weapons 122 percent up,” Ebrard said Monday in a press conference from Mexico City aired on YouTube.

“We have asked the government of the United States to participate in operations, obviously they on their side (of the border), us in ours, because it is illegal to come in with a firearm into Mexico,” Ebrard said.

The Foreign Minister said the interdiction would take place around border cities including Tijuana, Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros.

Ebrard said the actions would occur “in the next few days” in those areas, and that he has the cooperation of the governors of northern Mexico states, who are concerned about a recent increase in crime and homicides.

CBP officials said firearms interdiction operations have taken place for many years along the border with Mexico, but referred to the State Department questions about any possible agreement discussed by Ebrard and Pompeo.

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) official referred questions about the issue to the agency’s website, whose data up to Fiscal Year 2017 actually shows a decrease in the number of weapons Mexico has asked the United States to trace. The ATF received 19,704 requests for firearm origin traces in FY 2012 — the last year of the last major drug cartels war — compared to 15,316 in Fiscal Year 2017.

The 2016 GAO report states that it is drug trafficking organizations that often use American guns to commit violent crimes. “

High caliber guns are the preferred weapon used by drug-trafficking organizations,” the report states. “Most were purchased legally in gun shops and at gun shops in the United States and then trafficked illegally to Mexico. … A new complicating factor in efforts to fight firearms trafficking is that weapons parts are being transported to Mexico to be later (reassembled), an activity that is much harder to track.”

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The mission of is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.