The Fast and Furious gun-running scandal that continues to haunt the U.S. Department of Justice highlighted a frightening fact: Illegal firearms are flowing into Mexico from the U.S. at an alarming rate.
More than two percent of all firearms bought in the United States -- about 253,000 -- end up south of the border, up from 1.75 percent in 1990, according to a binational report by the Trans-Border Institute in San Diego and the Igarape Institute, a research center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“The Mexican authorities are patently frustrated with the relentless flow of arms and ammunition from north of the border,” the report stated. “These findings suggest that the United States is a significant, albeit unintentional, contributor to the global black market in arms and ammunition (and specifically in Mexico).”
Mexican authorities, however, are only able to seize a small number of the firearms heading across the border. Based on seizure reports for 2009, U.S. and Mexican authorities have only seized 15 percent of the total number of smuggled weapons.
It is extremely difficult for Mexicans to buy a firearm legally in the country, even though the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected.
There is only one gun store in the country, located in Mexico City. After the civil unrest of the 1960s, Mexico made reforms to its constitution and put limits on gun ownership and restricted the right to carry a firearm to law enforcement and federal officials.
Other requirements on gun ownership are similar to those in the United States, such as an age limit on ownership –18 in Mexico, 21 in the U.S. – no prior criminal convictions and the mental capacity to operate a gun. Mexico, however, requires gun owners to obtain a one-year permit from the Secretariat of National Defense and also belong to a shooting club.
“The fact that everyone is required to re-register their gun every year already creates a bureaucratic barrier in itself to owning a weapon,” Carin Zissis, the editor-in-chief of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas online, told Fox News Latino.
With over 50,000 gun retailers located on the U.S. side of the border, there have been multiple reports of weapons purchased by U.S. buyers ending up in the hands of Mexican drug cartel members.
Two out of every three illegal firearms found in Mexico come from the United States, according to statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
And the illegal gun trade is a profitable for gun shops and buyers. The new report found that trade made up around $127 million for the U.S. gun industry between 2010 and 2012 – four times higher than the $32 million between amassed 1997 and 1999.
Experts say that all this spells a continuation of the violence in Mexico, which has suffered over 70,000 murders since former President Felipe Calderón declared war on the country’s drug cartels in 2006and see the violence spread from the U.S.-Mexico border to major metropolitan and tourist areas.
“The difference between Mexico and the rest of Latin America is its location,” Zissis said. “Bordering a country that has lax laws on guns will help create this problem.”