GAO: 70% of firearms seized in Mexico came from USA

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( – A new federal report reveals that 70 percent of the firearms seized by Mexican authorities between 2009 and 2014 originated in the United States. In addition, the report shows that the majority of those U.S.-originated guns were bought in California, Arizona, and Texas, southwest states that border Mexico.

The report from the General Accountability Office (GAO) was issued on Jan. 16 and is entitled, “Firearms Trafficking: U.S. Efforts to Combat Firearms Trafficking to Mexico Have Improved, But Some Collaboration Challenges Remain.”

Between 2009 and 2014, the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) confirmed that Mexican authorities seized 104,850 firearms.  Using a sophisticated tracing program, called eTrace, the ATF determined that 73,684 of those weapons, or 70 percent, originated in the United States.

Another 17 percent of the firearms, 17,544 weapons, were traced to other countries, primarily Spain, China, Italy, Germany and Romania. For the remaining 13 percent, or 13,622 weapons, the ATF could not trace their origin because there was not enough information available.


According to the GAO, many of the weapons seized are used by Mexican drug cartels, or drug trafficking organizations (DTO).

The preferred weapon of choice for drug traffickers is a long rifle, such as an AR-15-type model, a shotgun, or an AK-47-type model, said the GAO. For shortguns, or handguns, 9mm semi-autos and .38 revolvers are popular with the drug gangs in Mexico.

In recent years, Mexican authorities have seized military-grade weapons such as .50-caliber machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenade launchers, said the GAO, but these weapons usually originated from Central American military stockpiles, and not the United States.

In addition to the large number of rifles and handguns coming from the United States, the GAO foundthat “most of the firearms seized in Mexico” came from “U.S. Southwest border states.”

Seized guns were traced to all 50 states but “most came from Texas, California, and Arizona,” said the GAO. “[A]bout 41 percent came from Texas, 19 percent from California, and 15 percent from Arizona.”

The ATF reported that in 2014 there were about “10,134 licensed dealers and pawnbrokers in the four Southwest border states” – California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas – with “many of them along the border.”

The weapons are flowing from the United States into Mexico much in the same way that bulk cash from drug sales flows back into Mexico across the border, said the GAO.

“[F]irearms that criminal organizations acquire from the United States are primarily transported overland into Mexico using the same routes and methods employed when smuggling bulk cash south and drugs north across the U.S.-Mexico border,” reported the GAO.

To obtain the firearms in the United States, the DTOs or their agents typically rely on “straw purchasers,” people who can legally buy the guns and pass a background check but who lie on the background check form when they say the purchase is for themselves, which itself is a felony.

“Although straw purchasers may legally purchase firearms for their own possession and use, when they purchase firearms on behalf of criminals or others, they violate federal law by making a false statement to a federal firearms licensee on the required forms,”said the GAO.

Criminal activity by drug traffickers along the U.S.-Mexico border is of great concern for lawmakers because the violence, which is surging, according to the GAO, “is spilling over into the United States.”

“Since 2009,” reported the GAO, “Mexican-based DTOs have been known to operate in more than a thousand cities in the United States.”

— Written by Michael W. Chapman