Crime and Violence

Senate Approves Bipartisan Bill on Straw Purchases and Gun Trafficking

Photo: CNN México
Photo: CNN México

03/11/13 – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill on Thursday, March 7, that would curb gun trafficking and straw purchases—the practice of buying guns for someone who in unable to pass a background check. The bill, authored by Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT), was approved on a bipartisan vote. The proposed legislation would create a federal gun trafficking statue, with penalties for both the straw purchaser and the seller. The gun trafficking statue would be a first of its kind in the United States, and could have an impact on the illegal trade of guns from the United States to Mexico.

“The practice of straw purchasing firearms is undertaken for one reason—to get a gun into the hands of someone who is prohibited from having one,” Leahy said. “We know that many guns used in criminal activities are acquired through straw purchases. We need a meaningful solution to this serious problem.”

While it is seemingly impossible to identify every firearm that is illicitly trafficked from the United States to Mexico, recent studies point to the increasingly important role that U.S. military-style assault rifles have played in Mexico’s continuing drug cartel violence. As reported by the Trans-Border Institute in “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis through 2012,” between 2006 and 2012, during Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s (2006 – 2012) crackdown on drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and organized crime groups (OCGs), an estimated 45,000 to 55,000 of the country’s more than 100,000 homicides were drug related. (To read TBI’s full report on drug violence in Mexico, click here.)

According to U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) data, nearly 70% of weapons seized by Mexican officials in Mexico from 2007 through 2011 were of U.S. origin, having been manufactured in the United States or imported to the United States before being trafficked to Mexico. (To read the ATF data, click here.) A working paper from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars highlights the use of semi-automatic assault rifles by Mexico’s DTOs and OCGs, with AK and AR variants accounting for the top two types of U.S. guns recovered by Mexican officials. (To read the Wilson Center and TBI paper on U.S. firearms trafficking, click here.)

The Senate Judiciary Committee will reconvene on Tuesday, March 12, to complete its work on three other gun-related bills, including an assault weapons ban proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).


Goodman, Colby and Marizco, Michel. “U.S. Firearms Trafficking to Mexico: New Data and Insights Illuminate Key Trends and Challenges.” Woodrow Wilson Center and the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. September 2010.

“Mexico Trace Data for Calendar Years 2007 – 2011.” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Data query. March 12, 2012.

Molzahn, et al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis through 2012.” Trans-Border Institute. February 2013.

Cohen, Tim. “Senate Panel Agrees to New Legislation on Guns.” CNN. March 7, 2013.

Patrick Leahy, United States Senator for Vermont website. “SJC Approves Bipartisan Legislation to Combat Gun Trafficking Authored By Chairman Leahy.” Press release. March 7, 2013.


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