Arms traffickers in Mexico continue to sell their wares on social media networks that offer them visibility and anonymity and in complete defiance of measures taken to stop them.
A recent video circulating on social media, shared by leading Mexican journalist Ciro Gómez Leyva, features a WhatsApp user showing images from a purported catalog of more than 100 weapons shared with potential customers by WhatsApp.
The user, registered as "Escualo," offers firearms, grenades and sophisticated accessories, such as silencers and scopes, in Mexico City. The advertised prices for the weapons were three times higher than those at gun stores in the United States, according to Gómez Leyva.
This is not the first time that Mexico has grappled with this problem.
This phenomenon has evolved over the years. In 2018, the newspaper El Universal warned about a growing arms sales trend on social networks, especially in Mexico's central state of San Luis Potosí.
Then in early 2019, Mexico City's online crime police unit stated it was monitoring 13 groups on social media platforms dedicated to selling weapons in the capital.
In August 2019, MVS Noticias gained access to a WhatsApp chat in which a wide range of weapons was being sold. Finally, in January 2021, a woman and a teenage accomplice were arrested in Mexico City's neighborhood of Iztapalapa for selling firearms, explosives and drugs on social networks.
InSight Crime Analysis
The use of social media platforms to sell weapons is proving stubbornly difficult to resolve, despite measures taken to stop it by governments and companies alike.
In 2016, Facebook and Instagram banned the sale of weapons on their platforms worldwide after being pressured to do by then-US President Barack Obama. But very quickly, this ban seemed to be relatively toothless since dedicated groups continued to thrive.
In 2020, Mexico's Defence Ministry announced its own crackdown on Internet sales of weapons.
But both groups and individual sales listings for firearms continue to be commonplace on Facebook. In a search on the social media platform, InSight Crime rapidly found several groups. One of these, Venta De Armas De Fuego México, was created in August 2021, had around 1,500 members and was selling Beretta and Ruger pistols with dozens of comments by interested buyers.
Stemming the online sales of firearms must begin with the broader problem, the massive flow of weapons legally bought in the United States and smuggled to Mexico. With guns bought in the United States pouring into the country and responsible for numerous murders in Mexico, it seems access to those guns is now becoming easier.
The legal hurdles faced in Mexico to acquire weapons present a stark contrast with the lack of gun sale controls in the United States. Between 2013 and 2018, 70 percent of all guns seized by Mexican authorities were traced back to the United States.
In 2020, the Houston Chronicle discovered that a single person with no criminal record managed to purchase 156 guns from the same gun store in the southern part of the United States within a span of just six months. The individual then resold those weapons to Mexican cartels, which in turn resold them to other traffickers. By the time they reached the final buyer, the surcharge had reached 300 percent, similar to the rates observed in the Escualo catalog.
In 2017, Small Arms Survey estimated that 16.8 million legal and illicit firearms were present in Mexico.