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By Champe Barton, The Trace
June 19, 2024

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has released records detailing the origin of guns smuggled from the United States to Mexico and Central America, marking just the second time in more than 20 years that the agency has disclosed the contents of its firearms tracing database.

The records form the basis of a new report from Stop US Arms to Mexico, a nonprofit in Oakland, California, that works to prevent gun trafficking. According to the report, more than 50,000 firearms were smuggled over the U.S. border into Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador between 2015 and 2022. The weapons traced back to nearly every U.S. ZIP code, indicating that the sources of crime guns trafficked to Mexico and Central America are not as heavily concentrated along the southern border as previously thought.

John Lindsay-Poland, the founder and coordinator of Stop US Arms to Mexico, said the records underscore the need for U.S. policymakers to take a more systematic approach to tackling cross-border gun trafficking. “This data shows us that the market for guns in the United States is so large and so porous that going after individual straw buyers is not a winning strategy,” he said, using a term for intermediaries who buy guns on behalf of traffickers. “We need to look upstream, at the unregulated market that provides such easy access to traffickers.”

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