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Much More Needs to be Done, Say Experts

April 29, 2024 – Stop US Arms to Mexico said the interim rule governing U.S. firearms exports, announced by the Commerce Department on April 26, is a step forward in controlling and reducing U.S. guns flowing to groups and individuals in three dozen countries. But much more needs to be done to control the free flow of weapons to military and police forces in many countries, and to nongovernmental gun users in countries not listed in the rule, the group said. Stop US Arms to Mexico is a project of Global Exchange that conducts research, community organizing, and advocacy on U.S. legal arms sales and illegal gun trafficking to Mexico.

The export rule lists non-binding criteria for all U.S. gun export licenses, but focuses primarily on weapons exports to non-governmental end users. The State and Commerce Departments analyzed the risk of theft and diversion of exported guns, but did not focus on risks of human rights abuses, which led them to address mostly exports to nongovernmental end users.

All U.S. gun exports now require identification of end users, according to the Commerce Department. For exports to Mexico, this is an important change from the previous practice of identifying only the Mexican army, which handles all gun imports, as the end user. Most U.S. gun exports to Mexico are destined for police forces, some of which collude with criminal organizations. The United States exported $56 million worth of firearms and munitions to Mexico last year, more than three times as much as to any other Latin American country.

The new rule will initially presume denial of licenses to export guns to nongovernmental end users in 36 countries, meaning that importers will have the burden of proof to show little risk of diversion or misuse of the weapons. According to a Commerce Department source, the exports subject to this provision account for 7% – or more than $40 million – of U.S. annual gun exports overseen by the Department.

The countries with the largest gun exports to which nongovernmental gun export licenses would be presumptively denied include Guatemala, Ecuador, Indonesia, Panama, Pakistan, and Colombia. The United States last year exported more than $5 million in estimated worth of firearms, parts and munitions overseen by Commerce to each country (in the case of Guatemala, more than $17 million). However, 39 of the 40 countries with the largest amount of gun exports overseen by the Commerce Department – including Israel, Mexico, Thailand, Philippines, United Arab Emirates, and Brazil – are not on the list for presumptive denial of gun export licenses to nongovernmental end users.

The United States should take further steps to reduce the risks and violence from U.S.-exported firearms in the Americas by enacting the ARMAS Act, sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro, which would set transparent standards for firearms exports, return gun export oversight to the State Department, and create an inter-agency strategy to stop gun trafficking in the hemisphere.

For information or interviews, contact: John Lindsay-Poland, coordinator, Stop US Arms to Mexico, a project of Global Exchange, johnlindsaypoland@gmail.com, 510-282-8983.