Crime and Violence

Efforts to regulate arms trafficking largely ineffective

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 1.39.15 PM03/25/13 – On March 18, 2013, the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego and the Igarapé Institute from Brazil released the report “The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which explores the issue of arms trafficking from the United States to Mexico. While the report recognizes the high levels of violence in Mexico, it highlights that Mexico does not manufacture small arms or light weapons, nor is ammunition available there in sizeable quantities. Moreover, Mexico has some of the most restrictive gun legislation in the world.

Overall, the report finds that:

  • A significant proportion of U.S. firearm dealers are dependent on Mexican demand: 46.7% of U.S. Federal Firearms Licenses to sell small arms during 2010-2012 depended for their economic existence on some amount of demand from the U.S.-Mexico;
  • A sizeable and growing percentage of U.S. firearms sales are destined for Mexico: 2.2% of U.S. domestic arms sales are attributable to the U.S.-Mexico traffic;
  • The volume of firearms crossing the U.S.-Mexican border is higher than previously assumed: 253,000 were purchased annually to be trafficked over 2010-2012. This number is starkly higher than the 88,000 firearms trafficked in 1997-1999, during the federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB);
  • The value of firearms sales destined for Mexico are significant and growing appreciably: The trade represented annual revenues of $127.2 million for the U.S. firearms industry during 2010-2012;
  • U.S. and Mexican authorities are seizing a comparatively small number of firearms at the border: Based on seizure reports for 2009, U.S. and Mexican authorities in recent years have been seizing just 14.7% of total arms bought with the intention of trafficking them. Specifically, Mexican authorities have seized roughly 12.7% of the total annual trade while the United States has intercepted around 2.0%.

Based on the empirical findings, the report concludes that ongoing government efforts to regulate firearms trade and trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border are largely ineffective. Notwithstanding improvements in the efficacy of Mexican authorities in seizing illicit firearms between 2008-2009, they are still meager in relation to the overall volume of weapons likely crossing the border.

“The Way of the Gun” is co-authored by Kroc School of Peace Studies Professor Topher McDougal, Trans-Border Institute Director David A. Shirk, Igarapé Institute Research Director Robert Muggah, and recent Kroc School graduate John Patterson. The report uses a unique econometric approach that is different from other studies previously conducted to estimate the demand for firearms in Mexico by examining the distribution of retail gun distributors throughout the United States. Based on the heavy concentration of gun dealers along the border, the authors are able to estimate a total demand for trafficking across the border, both in terms of firearms and dollar sales for the firearms industry.

To read the full report click HERE.


 McDougal, Topher, et al. “The Way of the Gun.” Trans-Border Institute, Igarapé Institute, 2013.

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  1. Pingback: Julia E. Sweig: Report: U.S. Policies for Reducing Gun Violence in the Americas : Quans Place

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