Le Soir, April 20, 2020 (google translation from French)
By Fabián Medina, Chief of Staff to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mexico
Since the 2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) expired in the United States, an increasing flow of firearms, including semi-automatic weapons, has circulated freely on its market, with a direct impact on Mexico, its neighbor on the southern border. Since that date, Mexico has seen an extraordinary increase in crime, not only homicides and armed violence, but also illicit trafficking and various types of extortion.
In 2018, the Center for American Progress identified that between 230,000 and 280,000 guns enter Mexico illegally each year, or more than 600 per day. Put into perspective, official sources estimate that 2.5 to 3 million guns have entered Mexico illegally over the past decade. Only 332,689 of them have been seized from criminal gangs or recovered through social programs. With over 3,000 km of land border between the United States and Mexico and daily crossings of more than 25,000 people, stopping this illicit flow is a very difficult task.
Unarmed organized crime
Unfortunately, organized crime has easily adapted to the restrictions imposed in the context of the Covid-19 epidemic. According to a Latinus study, more than 12 million firearms have been purchased in the past 12 months, an increase of 134% in sales, including the dark web, or via tunnels, unmanned vehicles and drones.
According to various studies, the United States has 5 times more weapons than India and 8 times more than China. Out of 10 American citizens, 4 are said to have at least one firearm, or 393 million small arms and light weapons. These weapons represent 46% of all small arms and light weapons in the world. The US is also home to 46 of the major firearms producers and exports 33% of total world exports.
30% of weapons seized in Mexico are European
European firearms manufacturers have taken notice of this huge market with flexible regulations and have established factories or granted licenses; while others regularly export firearms, parts, components and ammunition to American gun factories which sell them to the general public.
Official estimates for the past five years show that 30% of the firearms seized in Mexico were European, mostly brought in via the United States, from six producers: Spain, Italy, Romania, Austria, Germany and Belgium, in that order.
Unfortunately, this firepower has fueled the main criminal gangs. Several recent incidents demonstrate the great nuisance capacity of these firearms, such as the massive hate crime in El Paso, Texas, committed in August 2019 with a Romanian semi-automatic rifle causing 23 deaths and 23 other injuries; the suicide of an 11-year-old boy in a school in Torreón last January after killing a teacher and injuring several students; and a failed ambush last June on the Minister of Security in Mexico City, where 34 .50 caliber rifles – capable of downing a helicopter -, 5 barrette rifles, grenades and more than 400 shots were fired in seconds.
The Mexican government has made it a priority to stop these illicit flows, wherever they come from, and to counter the firepower of criminal gangs and their deadly impact on society.
This issue was raised in conversations between Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and President Donald Trump last July. Mexico also encouraged, within the framework of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, to strengthen risk analysis and licensing control, ammunition tracking, regulation of weapons and 3D printed components, as well as their illicit traffic via postal services and the dark web.
With the European countries, several initiatives are raised bilaterally, with the result that the German Federal Office for Export Control (BAFA) has asked the company SIG Sauer to comply with art. 7 and 8 of the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The CoArms program has also been extended by Germany and France to the Caribbean in order to recover firearms from the hands of civilians, and the strengthening of other EU cooperation programs in the region, such as the PAcCTO which has aimed at strengthening national capacities.
Appeal to European governments
The 3rd High-Level Dialogue on Justice and Security between Mexico and the European Union, scheduled for early 2021, will offer European and Mexican authorities the opportunity to conclude joint agreements, in particular for monitoring diversion of firearms into organized crime.
But the support of European governments and their firearms industries is certainly a first step, so that these weapons do not end up in the wrong hands, with a strong commitment to the defense of human rights, consistent national regulations and increased safety coordination.
Above: Mexican authorities are seizing (and destroying) a growing number of firearms that are smuggling their borders. – Reuters.