WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
17 Apr 2015 | News

New U.S. Data Sheds Light on Illegal Arms Trafficking to Latin America

Washington, D.C.—The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has released new data about firearms trafficking to Mexico. The data, which covers 2014, clearly show that the United States is the principle source of illegal firearms in Mexico. Of the 15,397 firearms seized by Mexican authorities and submitted to ATF for tracing in 2014, 11,061 (71.9 percent) were determined to be U.S.-sourced. This means that the firearms were purchased or otherwise acquired in the United States. 

“The data demonstrate that the U.S. government has not made any measurable progress on stemming the illegal flow of weapons across the United States' southern border,” said Clay Boggs, Program Officer for WOLA’s Mexico Program. “These firearms are fueling violence in Mexico and in other countries as well.” 

While most debate about illegal firearms trafficking has focused on Mexico, ATF has also released 2014 trace data for several Caribbean and Central American countries. The number of firearms submitted for tracing in these countries is significantly smaller than in Mexico, and the percentage of firearms that are U.S.-sourced varies considerably from country to country, but the figures still are surprisingly high. 
In the Bahamas, 97.9 percent of firearms recovered by authorities and submitted to ATF for tracing are U.S.-sourced; meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, only 40.3 percent are U.S.-sourced. When the Caribbean data are aggregated and averaged, U.S.-sourced firearms represent 60 percent of the regional total. For Central America, the number is 40 percent.
Illegal gun trafficking is a serious international problem. Many of the most significant reforms needed to address this problem—universal background checks, a new assault weapons ban, and a trafficking statute—require congressional action, but Congress has failed to act. Some state governments have taken matters into their own hands, passing important reforms to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands. 
However, Boggs argued that “The Obama administration should also do everything within its power to stop the deadly flow of weapons across our southern border." These actions include expanding the long gun reporting requirement currently in effect only for southwest border states and fully enforcing the ban on imported assault rifles.


Clay Boggs
Program Officer
+1 (828) 779-9400