Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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An Update on “Why is the United States backing Mexican drug gangs?”

by Shannon K. O'Neil
January 15, 2009

Since I published a short article on the drug war in Mexico on Tuesday (and re-published it in a posting below) I’ve received a number of responses and questions related to gun shops on the border and the weapons they sell that end up in the hands of drug cartels in Mexico. I’d like to thank everyone who sent feedback and clarify a few points.

I do incorrectly imply in the article that gun shops on the border sell hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The border gun shops do not legally sell these. However, these type of weapons used by Mexican drug cartels have been seized by customs officlas making their way south through the border. How they are purchased is somewhat unknown, but many of these are making their way to Mexico through the United States.

I received many skeptical emails regarding the number of gunshops along the border. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) estimates that there are about 6,650 Federal Firearms Licensees in this area, and the border is 2,000 mile long, meaning that there are 3.3 gun shops per mile (I said 3 per mile in the article). If we include all the shops in border states (not just near the border), the number rises to 9,161 locations.

Lastly, I received e-mails questioning the term “cop killer,” or “mata policias” in Spanish, which is a term commonly used in Mexico to refer to the FN Five-seveN, a weapon which if loaded with the right bullets can shoot through body armor, vehicle doors, and windows. Other weapons commonly bought on the border and trafficked to Mexico include AK-47s , AR-15 assault rifles, Colt .38 Supers, and Glock 9 millimeters.

This is not new news. The U.S. government recognizes that U.S.-purchased weapons are fueling Mexico’s violence. In fact, ATF acting director Michael Sullivan said last year that investigators have traced 90 to 95 percent of weapons seized in Mexico to the United States. William Hoover, Assistant Director for Field Operations at ATF said in a congressional testimony last year that “It is a major challenge for ATF to adequately identify and disrupt the illegal sources of firearms and ammunition, while participating in the interdiction of shipments firearms and ammunition destined for Mexico.”

What’s impressive is the lackluster response to such a serious problem. About 100 U.S. firearms agents and 35 inspectors patrol the border for gun smugglers, compared to 14,400 Border Patrol agents that patrol northward movements.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Bobert

    I can’t find anything on RPGs in either of the links you posted. And the grenade seizures seem to be homemade operations. Perhaps the United States just has more talented gunsmiths than Mexico?

    It is technically incorrect to call the semi-automatic carbines sold in the United States “AK-47s”; they are best described as “AK-47 type rifles”. AK-47 is a military designation for the Soviet select-fire assault rifle.

    It should also be again noted that penetration of Kevlar vests is hardly unique to the FN pistol; many cartridges designed over 100 years ago can do that quite easily.

    Perhaps if the United States Border Patrol cracked down on incoming illegals more rigorously they would apprehend these criminals before they purchased weapons here in the United States…?

  • Posted by Porter M. Corn

    If Bobert would take a moment to think before using this as an opportunity to bash illegals, he would realize that the weapons being bought in the US and smuggled into Mexico are being purchased legally by “PATRIOTIC TRUE AMERICANS” in search of a quick buck, since illegals can’t go into gun shops and purchase weapons.

    And LaPierre of the NRA has stated he will oppose any efforts to put a stop to these practices.

  • Posted by Ben

    Actually you are still incorrect in regard to the “Cop Killer” branded FN 5-7 pistol. It is not armor piercing with ammo currently available to the public. The ONLY round made for it that will defeat body armor is restricted for import to military contracts only and so the only round you can find for this pistol is a hunting round that is NOT ARMOR PIERCING. A .44 magnum round in FMJ will defeat most body armor, but it is old news. The Five Seven pistol presents a new target for the anti gun crowd to set their sites on. I would like to find an actual case where this impossible to find round (AP) has actually been used to penetrate police armor…….

  • Posted by FFL

    I gotta agree with you for the most part, nicely put.

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