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A report by the Mexican Commission for the Defense of Human Rights and the Stop US Arms to Mexico Project of Global Exchange.

Mexico faces an acute crisis of gun violence, human rights violations, and impunity for violent crimes, most of which are committed with firearms. While the Trump administration has committed itself to increasing U.S. gun exports, the change of leadership in Mexico offers an opportunity to heed the voices and analysis that have called for ending policies of warfare and instead focusing on community investment. This report presents new data and analysis as well as policy recommendations for U.S. policy-makers and the incoming government in Mexico.

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Executive Summary

Mexico’s population is living in a climate of generalized violence and impunity, where gun homicides, torture, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary arrests are committed daily with no one held accountable. The country’s militarized security strategy and the influx of firearms have had devastating outcomes, including since 2006 more than 37,435 disappeared persons, the discovery of more than 1,610 clandestine graves, and 121,035 gun homicides. In 2017 and the first half of 2018 gun homicide rates were the highest in Mexico’s modern history.

Since the war against drug trafficking and organized crime was initiated in 2006, the legal and illegal firearms trade to Mexico from the United States has dramatically increased, with exponential increases in gun homicides and serious human rights violations.  

Based on an analysis of responses to public document requests by the Mexican military and other agencies, as well as other official reports, this report provides further evidence of the linkage between the increased firearms trade from the United States Mexico and the dramatic increase in gun homicides and violence in Mexico. Our presentation and analysis of data from both national and international agencies and organizations aim to explain the role of firearms in the broader context in Mexico of violence and impunity for serious human rights violations.

In a policy framework that led to the deployment of thousands of soldiers for law enforcement and the use of lethal military force against criminal organizations, the United States has provided the main firepower for this militarized strategy by selling an enormous and growing quantity of firearms and firearm parts to Mexico.

This report synthetizes and analyses a wide range of information about both the legal and illegal arms trade into Mexico. While the United States is the largest legal exporter of guns to Mexico, as well as the principal source of illegally trafficked guns, the Mexican military is the sole legal distributor and manufacturer of firearms in the country, including to police. The report outlines specific cases where there is evidence that firearms legally exported by the United States were used to commit human rights violations. The study also points out the importance of transparency and national control mechanisms for the effective regulation of firearm transfers.

Beyond the drastic rise in violence and role of U.S gun imports in the violence, this report shows the impact that poorly regulated firearms transfers have had throughout Mexico and their devastating effects on public security. We also suggest alternatives for a more transparent and efficiently regulated arms trade by both countries. Based on our research, we recommend that Mexico and the United States reduce legal firearms exports to Mexico to the amount before the war on drugs was declared; to establish effective criteria for legally exported firearm end users; to implement mechanisms to register, identify, trace and monitor criteria of firearm end users; and to improve controls and regulations for export and import licenses.

Recommendations to the United States Government

  1. Reduce legal firearms exports to Mexico to levels below their amount before the “war on drugs” was declared and the Merida Initiative began in 2007.
  2. Establish and implement criteria for end users of legally exported firearms that exclude exports to all police and military units for which there is credible information of members of those units having colluded with criminal organizations or committed gross human rights abuses.
  3. Ensure that applications for gun export licenses correctly identify end users for exported weapons, including firearms and other equipment, and establish efficient mechanisms for tracing such weapons from producer to end users.
  4. Until U.S. policy excludes firearms end users that are credibly alleged to have colluded with organized crime or human rights violations, and has implemented systems to identify end users, the United States should suspend firearms exports to the Mexican military and police, including  the license for the Mexican Navy to conduct assembly of up to $265 million worth of military firearms parts produced by Sig Sauer, Inc.
  5. Prohibit the sale of military-type assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which are easily obtained by Mexican criminal organizations through retail purchases in the United States and trafficked over the border.
  6. Continue to regulate export licenses for semi-automatic firearms (including designs for 3D printing of weapons) within the State Department, with Congressional oversight, rather than the Commerce Department.