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USD study finds weapons trafficking from U.S. to Mexico "much higher than widely assumed"

253,000 guns worth $127 million cross illegally into Mexico annually, Trans-Border Institute report estimates 

Thousands of gun dealers might go out of business if illegal Mexican arms market were to go away, report author says     

      way of the gun report coverA new study says 253,000 weapons worth $127 million have been crossing the border into Mexico illegally annually, nearly three times what crossed 15 years ago. One of the report's authors said thousands of gun dealers along the border would go out of business were it not for Mexican demand.

      The study from the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute and Brazil's Igarapé Institute says roughly 2.2% of U.S. domestic arms sales are attributable to U.S.-Mexico traffic during 2010-12, up from roughly 1.75% in 1993. It says this is "much higher than widely assumed."

      The study, using what it called a unique geographical data analysis, concludes that "efforts to regulate firearms trade and trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border are largely ineffective."

      The "Way of the Gun" study finds that 46.7% of firearms dealers "during 2010-2012 depended for their economic existence on some amount of demand from the U.S.-Mexico firearms trade to stay in business." The study says the percentage has steadily risen from 37.4% in 1993.

      It is not exactly clear what "depended for their economic existence on some amount of demand from the U.S.-Mexico firearms trade to stay in business" means. However, Topher McDougal, an assistant professor in Economic Development & Peacebuilding at USD's Kroc School of Peace Studies and one of four authors of the report, told McClatchy Newspapers that thousands of border gun dealers would go out of business if the guns they were selling were not being illegally crossed to Mexico.

       He also told U-T San Diego: “We wanted to see if you could statistically attribute the superabundance of (gunshops) along the border to the distance from the border.”     

The Way of the Gun data



1997-99 (annual average)

(annual average)

U.S. gun dealers dependent in some way on Mexican demand 37.4%   46.7%
Percentage of U.S. firearms sales destined for Mexico  1.75%    2.2%
Firearms crossing the border to Mexico   88,000 253,000
Value of firearms crossing the border   $32 million $127.2 million

(12.7% Mexico,
2% US)

U.S. businesses with licenses to sell guns    

(51,300 retail shops; 7,400 pawn shops

U.S. businesses with licenses to sell guns in four U.S. states bordering Mexico    


(11.4% of national total)


      The report says 6,700 businesses have licenses to sell guns in the four U.S. states bordering Mexico (California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas). The report says there are 51,300 retail gun shops and around 7,400 pawn shops licensed to sell guns in the United States.

     The report concludes that smarter policies are required to combat gun trafficking. These include:
• Background checks that could help identify straw purchasers
• No cash firearms sales in border states
• For Mexico to create a database of seized firearms (Mexico has seized around 140,000 weapons since 2006, McClatchy Newspapers reported)
• Public disclosure of gun sales by county

     The study used what it called a county-level dataset generated by a Geographic Information System (GIS) of federal firearms licenses to sell small arms and created a demand curve based on distance to the border and the surrounding population's statistical propensity for buying guns.

      The study says one reason so many dealers are near the border may have to do with evading federal scrutiny. If there are more dealers, many of which are small, it becomes harder for the U.S. government to police them, the study says. The report notes made a parallel with U.S. exports of used tires to Mexico. It says that while Mexican states restrict the number of used tires that can cross the border, "informal, unpermitted drivers in pickup trucks load them up and cross in non-commercial lanes at official ports of entry."

The report: "The Way of the Gun: Estimating Firearms Traffic Across the U.S.-Mexico Border"

McClatchy Newspapers: "253,000 US Guns Smuggled to Mexico Annually, Study Finds"

Story, U-T San Diego: "US-Mexico gun trafficking grows"

Jan 8 Associated Press story on Arizona gun dealers challenging rifle reporting requirement.

2011 PBS Newshour transcript on new gun-sales reporting requirements in border states.