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U.S. Policy Solutions for the Crisis of Gun Violence in Mexico

Federal Legislation

Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazine Ban. Congress banning assault rifles and assault pistols would make a significant impact on public safety in the United States, in Mexico, and throughout Central America. Proposed assault weapons bans – H.R. 698, sponsored by Rep. David Cicilline, and S.R.25, sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein – would also ban high-capacity magazines and .50 caliber sniper rifles, as well as the importation of these classes of weapons into the United States. The House passed an assault weapons bill in 2022, and President Biden has repeatedly called for an assault weapons ban.

ARMAS Act. In December 2023, Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX) introduced the Americas Regional Monitoring of Arms Sales (ARMAS) Act. ARMAS Act (fact sheet here) includes the following:

  • Would require the development of a comprehensive interagency strategy, led by the State and Commerce Departments, to disrupt trafficking and diversion of firearms exported from the United States.
  • Would provide Congressional notification and blocking of certain small arms exports regulated by the Department of Commerce, consistent with safeguards that were in place when the same items were regulated by the Department of State.
  • Would require the submission of a report that will allow Congress to understand the challenges and successes of current efforts to address illegal arms trafficking and inform future strategies.
  • For “covered countries” (initially Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago), the Commerce Department would report more detailed information on export licenses, granting Congress greater data to understand the effect of current regulations.

Disarming Cartels Act, H.R. 6404, introduced by Rep. Dan Goldman, would increase inter-agency cooperation to prosecute illegal trafficking of firearms from the U.S. to Mexico.

Stop Arming Cartels Act, S. 2926, would prohibit the sale of .50 caliber firearms and report to state and local law enforcement agencies multiple sales of rifles to one individual (as is currently done for handguns). Such multiple rifle sales are a flag for potential trafficking.

Repeal the Tiahrt Amendments. Congress should remove restrictions on modernizing and digitizing record keeping systems to aid in research and investigations. Last year, Senator Menendez and Congresswoman Lee re-introduced the Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act to repeal the Tiahrt Amendments and require the FBI and ATF to collect, preserve, and disclose gun records and gun tracing data.

Repeal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA). Congress should repeal the federal PLCAA and state laws that restrict accountability and liability on gun companies that facilitate trafficking and violence. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) last year proposed the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, which would repeal PLCAA and allow civil cases to go forward against irresponsible actors in state and federal courts, just as they would if they involved any other product.

Executive Branch Actions

  • Ban import of all assault weapons and pistols by enforcing the sporting purposes test. The Gun Control Act of 1968 creates four narrow categories of firearms that the Attorney General must authorize for importation. Under one such category, subsection 925(d)(3), the Attorney General shall approve applications for importation when the firearms are generally recognized as particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes (the “sporting purposes test”).” Administrations of both parties have repeatedly invoked this authority to ensure that only legitimate sporting weapons are brought into the country. In 1989, it was used to ban the importation of 43 semiautomatic assault rifles; and in 1993, its authority was invoked to propose a ban on the importation of certain assault pistols.
  • Return complete oversight of US exports of small arms to the State Department. A 2022 letter to the Commerce Secretary from Senators Warren and Murphy and Reps. Castro and Torres expressed “grave concern about Commerce Department actions that have weakened oversight of assault weapon and high-capacity magazine exports, padding the gun industry’s profits while putting deadly weapons in the hands of corrupt actors around the world.”
  • Identify Firearms Export End Users. The State and Commerce Departments should ensure that applications for gun export licenses correctly identify end users for exported weapons. Establish a proper tracking system for legal firearms exports to Mexico which includes vital information that transparently registers, controls, and tracks the end uses of exported guns, including all prospective end user units, not only central distribution units.
  • Increased transparency. The Department of Justice should revise the Memorandum of Understanding with Mexico’s Prosecutor General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República) for using eTrace data on firearms recovered in Mexico and traced to the United States to exclude unnecessary restrictions on use of trace data.