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Press Release from Rep. Joaquin Castro

ARMAS Act Introduced

Today, Representatives Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Norma Torres (CA-35), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Nanette Barragán (CA-44) Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), and Ilhan Omar (MN-05) introduced the Americas Regional Monitoring of Arms Sales (ARMAS) Act, legislation that seeks to disrupt firearm trafficking from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean by implementing stronger transparency, accountability, and oversight mechanisms for U.S. small arms exports.

“As the United States works with our neighbors to tackle the root causes of migration, we need to address the ways that our own practices are contributing to instability and violence in the Western Hemisphere,” said Congressman Castro, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Development, International Organizations, and Global Corporate Social Impact.“The ARMAS Act would marshal a comprehensive federal strategy to disrupt arms trafficking, restore Congressional oversight over small arms exports and prevent legitimate security assistance from being diverted to criminal groups. I thank Reps. Torres, Sires, Grijalva, Barragán, Espaillat, and Omar for partnering with me on this bill, and I look forward to building bipartisan support for this important step forward for regional security.”

“We must do everything we can to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, and the ARMAS Act will help keep people across the Western Hemisphere safe by implementing an all-of-government approach to stop the trafficking of deadly firearms. With this bill, we can bolster both America’s national security and the security of all our neighbors in the Americas, and I am proud that oversight measures I have previously championed are included in this legislation to take on gun violence across the region,” said Congresswoman Torres.

“Violence and insecurity continue to drive migration to the United States. If we fail to implement strict monitoring and take responsibility for the illicit use of American exported weapons, the result will be more of the same,” said Congressman Sires, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration, and International Economic Policy. “This legislation will allow Congress, the Administration, and our regional partners to identify and shore up critical vulnerabilities to prevent arms from falling into the wrong hands, while protecting crucial security assistance programs from corruption and abuse. I’m proud to join my colleagues in support of the rule of law and human rights in the Western Hemisphere.”

“Gun violence is not only an American epidemic, but one that spans borders. Part of acknowledging the role that the United States plays in cross-border gun trafficking and subsequent violence, is building better systems for transparency, interagency collaboration, and regulation. I’m proud to join this effort led by Rep. Castro to help address this issue that has huge implications for my district, our nation and our global allies,” said Congressman Grijalva.

“The ARMAS Act is a necessary, comprehensive step in tackling firearms trafficking across the Western Hemisphere,” said Congressman Espaillat. “In finding tangible solutions to gun violence, we must acknowledge that the movement of these deadly weapons spans the entire region, and as such must enact a holistic, federal approach that promotes collaboration and common-sense oversight to protect not only our communities here in the United States, but our friends across Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a matter of international cooperation, humanitarian values, and our own national security, and I am proud to stand with my colleagues in Congress in supporting this legislation.”

“Illicit firearms smuggled into Mexico and Central America from the U.S. have contributed to the rise of violence and migration in the region.” said Congresswoman Barragán. “This legislation creates a pathway to address this problem. By ensuring the U.S. can properly monitor exported firearms, we can combat the illegal transfer of our exported firearms to unauthorized users and help to prevent surges of violence in areas such as Mexico, the Northern Triangle, countries of Central America, and the Caribbean.”

“If we are serious about tackling the humanitarian crisis that migrants from Latin America face—both in their home countries and at our own border—we must address the root causes of the crisis. That’s why I am proud to help lead this effort to tackle illegal arms trafficking to Latin America and the Caribbean and ensure that weapons from the United States do not end up in the hands of criminal groups. Arms originating from our country account for nearly three quarters of weapons recovered from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I hope anyone who cares about human rights, immigration and public safety will join this effort,” said Congresswoman Omar.

In recent years, insufficient end-use monitoring and accountability mechanisms have allowed a significant number of U.S.-origin weapons to be illegally diverted for illicit use across the Western Hemisphere. According to data from the Government Accountability Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S.-sourced weapons accounted for 75 percent of traced firearms recovered from the Dominican Republic and 70 percent from Mexico.

In September 2022, Representatives Castro and Torres and Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, expressing serious concerns about the Commerce Department’s process for approving export licenses for U.S.-made weapons and high-capacity magazines. The ARMAS Act seeks to address concerns expressed in the letter while increasing Congressional safeguards over arms exports.

We are looking forward to working to gain bi-partisan and bi-cameral support in the next Congress to move this bill forward and indicate the importance of addressing arms trafficking to the region as it continues to fuel violence and migration.

Specifically, the ARMAS Act 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, 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.

Bill Text

Photo: Rep. Joaquin Castro. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images