HomeNewsAnalysisSmuggling Ammo from US to Mexico All Too Easy
ANALYSIS

Smuggling Ammo from US to Mexico All Too Easy

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 12 OCT 2011 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

A surge in the amount of ammunition seized at the Arizona-Mexico border suggests that traffickers may have found the perfect state to buy and smuggle bullets in bulk.

According to the Arizona Republic, ammunition seizures along the state's border with Mexico have increased more than 125-fold since 2007. U.S. authorities have confiscated over 95,000 rounds so far this fiscal year, compared to just 760 rounds four years ago.

The flood of bullets apparently pouring across the border may be a sign that U.S. agencies have become more effective at identifying and stopping smugglers. But it is also damning evidence that Arizona's weak gun laws are not only putting weapons into the hands of Mexican criminal groups, but may also be contributing to the gangs' munition supply.

Ammunition regulation laws vary by state, and Arizona has next to none. Stores are not required to record mass purchases of ammunition, and there is no limit to the amount an individual can buy at one time. Under federal law, ammunition buyers are required to be U.S. citizens and have no criminal record, but store owners often fail to enforce this.

It is impossible to say how many bullets sold in Arizona are taken to Mexico, let alone end up in the stockpiles of Mexican criminal gangs. Unlike guns, bullets have no serial numbers and are difficult to trace. But its safe to assume that for every thousand rounds of ammo seized at the border, thousands more make it into the hands of the gangs.

Mexican groups have a special incentive to buy bullets in bulk. The weapons favored by groups like the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel -- including an AK-47 knock-off known as the "cuerno de chivo" -- are high-power assault weapons which can fire up to one full round with each pull of the trigger. Considering that bullets are expensive and difficult to obtain in Mexico, criminal groups which need to buy cheap bullets en masse find U.S. border states are the most convenient place to do so.

The problem is not limited to Arizona. Texas has similarly weak regulations, and as a result, buyers can purchase hundreds of thousands of ammo rounds online, or buy in bulk at different stores on a weekly basis. Because Texas has two highways -- the 281 and the 77 -- which run from the Mexican border to the northernmost parts of the U.S., the state makes a convenient smuggling corridor for arms traffickers looking to buy ammunition in stores across the country. And like Arizona, there is a profileration of gun dealers along Texas' border, with at least 72 dealers in El Paso county alone, just over the border from Mexican murder capital Juarez.

Because there are no legal requirements to report mass sales of ammunition, U.S. law enforcement agencies have little ability to identify and track suspicious purchases. This is basically the same problem facing agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) when it comes to breaking up gun trafficking networks. Earlier this year, the U.S. government tried to push through new regulations which would require stores to report when two or more semi-automatics are sold to a single purchaser within a five-day period. Predictably, the move met stiff opposition from the pro-gun lobby.

Alongside the increasing flow of bullets from Arizona to Mexico, the state has registered a record amount of firearms sold this year. The Arizona Republic reports that an estimated 350,000 guns have been sold so far in 2011, a number which includes weapons bought from retailers, as well as estimates for weapons bought at gun shows or through private transactions, for which there are no official records.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 11 DEC 2020

The world’s biggest oil trading firm faces a large fine after a multi-country investigation revealed it bribed Brazilian, Mexican and…

HUMAN RIGHTS / 28 JAN 2022

A number of media workers in Mexico have been shot and killed, stabbed to death and ambushed in armed attacks…

ELITES AND CRIME / 30 JUN 2021

The embattled governor of a northern border state in Mexico is touting the timely arrests of those allegedly responsible for…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…