The United States ambassador to Mexico accepted on Monday that 70% of firearms used in violent crimes in Mexico come from the U.S., an acknowledgement that President López Obrador described as “extremely important.”
“Arms trafficking is a big problem in the United States. We acknowledge that 70% of the weapons that arrive in Mexico, that cause violence here in Mexico, arrive from the United States,” Ambassador Ken Salazar said at an event in Mexico City focused on the fight against gunrunning.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry said in 2019 that firearms from the United States are used in seven out of every 10 high-impact crimes committed in Mexico, explaining in a briefing note that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had confirmed that most guns seized by Mexican authorities come from north of the border.
“Between fiscal years 2012 and 2017, Mexican authorities seized and sent to the ATF for verification a total of 98,654 weapons, of which 69,140 – in other words 70% – were traced to an origin (manufacture or legal importation) in the United States,” the note said.
Even though the 70% figure comes from the U.S. government, López Obrador on Tuesday praised Salazar for his public acknowledgement of it.
“What Ken Salazar acknowledged yesterday is extremely important. We’ve said it [and] we can prove it that at least 70% of weapons brought into Mexico are of U.S. origin because there’s no control over weapons. But for [Salazar] to say it is an act of sincerity and desire for this to be dealt with,” he said.
“This wasn’t spoken about before,” López Obrador added before going on to criticize the Mérida Initiative security pact between Mexico and the United States – declared “dead” by ex-foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard in 2021 – and the 2009-2011 “fast and furious” gun-running scheme, in which the U.S. government allowed people to buy guns illegally in the U.S. and smuggle them into Mexico so that the weapons could be tracked and law enforcement officials could locate and arrest crime bosses.
The scheme occurred when a “narco-government” was in power in Mexico, López Obrador said, referring to the administration led by former president Felipe Calderón.
“The worst thing is they used [the guns] to murder Mexican and foreign people, with a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of our country. But that’s the way it was,” he said.
“… Now it’s different and this attitude of the ambassador speaks well of there being joint work [to combat arms trafficking],” López Obrador said.
Salazar said Monday that the United States is going to do all it can to prevent the southward flow of firearms.
“That requires investment … to have a more secure border with modern equipment, with technology so that we can detect these weapons before they cross the border,” he said.
“Investigations have to be carried out, [we need] prosecutions of the criminals that use these weapons, of the [criminal] organizations that operate on that side of the border in the United States and here in Mexico,” Salazar said.
“… It’s not just a problem of the United States or of Mexico. It’s a problem we have to work on together,” the ambassador said.
Combating arms trafficking was a key focus of high-level bilateral security talks held in Mexico City in October.
Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodríguez told a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting that Mexico reiterated its request to the United States to “halt the illicit entry of high-powered firearms” to Mexico, while U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said that the U.S. would “do everything in our power to stop the unlawful trafficking of weapons to the drug traffickers as part of our fight to break up every link of the chain of the drug traffickers.”
As things stand, criminal groups in Mexico don’t appear to have much trouble getting and holding onto illegal firearms.
The Mexican government estimates that hundreds of thousands of guns enter Mexico illegally every year, while data from the Federal Attorney General’s Office obtained by the El Economista newspaper in August showed that the number of firearms estimated to have been brought into Mexico illegally since 2012 is more than 20 times higher than the number of guns seized by authorities in the same period.
While that data underscores the challenge Mexican authorities face, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ coordinator for North American political affairs said Monday that gun seizures have increased significantly during the current term of government.
“So far in this administration 47,481 firearms have been confiscated, 65% more than in the previous administration,” Cristina Planter told the Mexico City anti-arms smuggling event.
In addition to calling on the United States to do more to stop weapons entering Mexico, the federal government sued U.S. gunmakers in 2021, accusing them of negligent business practices that have led to illegal arms trafficking and deaths in Mexico.
Mexico’s case — championed by former foreign affairs minister Ebrard until he left that position in June — was dismissed by the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in September 2022, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) filed an appeal in March. A ruling on the appeal has not yet been made.