EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Illegal guns are flowing into Mexico from the U.S. at a record pace, and the Mexican government isn’t happy about that.

Mexican officials say those guns are contributing to rising homicide rates in their country and empowering transnational criminal organizations blamed for most of the 120,000 murders reported in Mexico in the past three years.

“We estimate that half a million weapons are trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico every year. The problem is that all this weaponry is getting to the criminal organizations, giving them very strong firepower to commit all kinds of crimes,” said Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon, Mexico’s consul general in El Paso.

Ibarra says Mexico has strict gun laws and its single army-run gun store only issues a couple of hundred gun licenses per year. Virtually every gun used to commit a crime comes from abroad, and seven out of 10 are traced back to the United States, records show.

Those guns don’t flow south by the truckload or planeload. They’re typically purchased by individuals in border states like Texas and California who go into the same or different stores again and again.

A recent case in El Paso federal court tells of a local convicted of dealing firearms without a license. The man allegedly purchased 49 guns and rifles from 12 dealers and was detected driving into Mexico shortly after the purchases. The guns included 9mm Berettas and semi-automatic rifles.

Alleged lack of accountability in similar prior cases led Mexico to sue American gun manufacturers in Massachusetts federal court in August.

“We have never meddled with the Second Amendment. This is not against the rights of the people of the United States to buy and own a gun,” Ibarra said. “We (sued) gun manufacturers and distributors we believe are engaging in negligent commercial practices because they know the weaponry they produce is being trafficked to Mexico and is being used in criminal activity.”

The gun manufacturers are fighting the civil lawsuit, whose next hearing date is Nov. 22.

While not commenting on the litigation, a number of U.S. federal agencies say American guns going into Mexico represent a “national security threat” to the United States because they facilitate drug trafficking into the U.S. Such activity hasn’t waned during the COVID-19 pandemic and has extended into the highly profitable distribution of dangerous synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, blamed for a rising tide of opioid-related deaths in the United States.

A February 2021 General Accountability Office report outlined steps taken by U.S. federal agencies to disrupt weapons trafficking into Mexico but noted there is room for improvement. GAO suggests training Mexican agents to provide more data to ensure additional tracing of guns and calls for U.S. agencies to expand its analytical capability on the issue.

Gun smuggling hot spots along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Graphic courtesy GAO)

“U.S. agencies have recognized disrupting firearms trafficking to Mexico as a U.S. priority and established new plans and initiatives,” the GAO report states. “However, the agencies have not identified all of the elements of performance measures needed to assess progress toward this goal. Identifying relevant indicators and targets for their efforts to disrupt the trafficking of U.S.-sourced firearms to Mexico would enhance (federal agencies’) ability to focus their resources effectively to address this threat to U.S. national security.”

Ibarra says his country is actively cooperating with the United States to make a dent on the problem, as evidenced by the exchange of information on U.S. guns found in Mexico.

“In the end, this affects everybody. Many people are dying — civilians, police officers and soldiers,” the consul said. “And then we have social aspect of providing medical care for the injured and people having to flee their communities because of the violence.”

Two Mexican nationals rest at the foot of the Paso del Norte International Bridge in Juarez, Mexico. They were part of a large group of migrants expelled from the United States under the CDC Title 42 rule to prevent cross-border spread of COVID-19. (photo Roberto Delgado/Special to Border Report)

Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have been displaced in the past decade by drug-related violence, according to some non-governmental organizations in Mexico. Many of those families and individuals end up in Mexican border cities or, eventually, the United States.