How America’s Wild West Gun Policies Are Fueling Central America’s Refugee Problem

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FILE - In this Jan. 16, 2013 file photo, assault weapons and hand guns are seen for sale at Capitol City Arms Supply in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

It’s been widely reported that loosely regulated gun sales in the US have fueled Mexico’s drug wars. A 2013 study by scholars at the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute and the Igarape Institute — a Brazilian research center — found that 253,000 guns are smuggled into Mexico from the US each year, about 2.2 percent of total American gun sales.

Over the weekend, Alec McGillis reported for The New Republic that a similar dynamic is throwing fuel on the fire in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — the three countries that account for a spike in unaccompanied refugee children showing up at our Southern border. 

Richard Slotkin on Guns and Violence

MacGillis writes:

The surge of migrants coming to the U.S. from Central America is being fueled in part by the movement of guns heading in the other direction, from U.S. dealerships doing brisk business with the help of porous guns laws and a powerful gun lobby.

The role of gun trafficking has been oddly absent in the debate over the gang violence in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala that, coupled with economic despair, is driving the migrant wave from those three nations, the so-called Northern Triangle. It’s not as if we’re unwilling to consider any U.S. responsibility for the surge—there’s plenty of talk about the fact that several of the gangs terrorizing the Northern Triangle got their start in Los Angeles, and about the role that U.S. drug policy has played in fueling violence south of the border.

Getting less attention, though, has been the U.S. link to the actual weaponry being used in the killings and other crimes that make the three Central American nations among the most dangerous in the world. (Honduras has by far the highest homicide rate in the world; El Salvador and Guatemala are fourth and fifth.) According to data collected by the ATF, nearly half of the guns seized from criminals in El Salvador and submitted for tracing in the ATF’s online system last year originated in the U.S., versus 38 and 24 percent in Honduras and Guatemala, respectively. Many of those guns were imported through legal channels, either to government or law enforcement agencies in the three countries or to firearms dealers there. But a not-insignificant number of the U.S.-sourced guns—more than 20 percent in both Guatemala and Honduras—were traced to retail sales in the U.S. That is, they were sold by U.S. gun dealers and then transported south, typically hidden in vehicles headed across Mexico, though sometimes also stowed in checked airline luggage, air cargo, or even boat shipments. (Similar ratios were found in traces the ATF conducted in 2009 of 6,000 seized guns stored in a Guatemalan military bunker—40 percent of the guns came from the United States, and slightly less than half of those were found to have been legally imported, leaving hundreds that were apparently trafficked.) “It is a problem,” says Jose Miguel Cruz, an expert in Central American gang violence at Florida International University. “The problem is we don’t have any idea how many [of the trafficked guns] there are. It’s a big, dark area.”

Read the whole thing at The New Republic.

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  • Abraham Collins

    The vast majority of the guns obtained by the cartels are provided by the corrupt armed forces of the various Central American countries. There are records of cartel members testifying to this. Many anti-air guns and RPGs have been recovered by the authorities. You think you can just walk into a US gun shop and pick one of these up willy-nilly? You’re fooling yourselves with this propaganda.

  • Abraham Collins

    The vast majority of the guns obtained by the cartels are provided by the corrupt armed forces of the various Central American countries. There are records of cartel members testifying to this. Many anti-air guns and RPGs have been recovered by the authorities. You think you can just walk into a US gun shop and pick one of these up willy-nilly? You’re fooling yourselves with this propaganda. Source:

    laht(dot)com/article.asp?ArticleId=390473&CategoryId=14091

  • Anonymous

    From your link “Items such as grenades and rocket-launchers are stolen from Central American armies and smuggled into Mexico via neighboring Guatemala.” Strawman arguments are fun, huh.

  • Anonymous

    From your link “Items such as grenades and rocket-launchers are stolen from Central American armies and smuggled into Mexico via neighboring Guatemala.” Can you try it again non-Strawman?

  • George Lopez

    253,000 guns per year aren’t. Per year!

  • Stu Chisholm

    Load. Of. Crap.

  • Anonymous

    Explain. How. Facts.

  • Abraham Collins

    So you think they’d stop at just grenades and rocket launchers? Most of those AKs they have are full-auto and you can’t find very many of those in US gun shops. They’re getting the vast majority of their rifles from Central America also.

  • Abraham Collins

    Funny a bleating sheep such as yourself doesn’t require any facts from the gun-runner criminal Eric Holder and his executive privilege invoking accomplice Obama, but the moment your “brainwashing,” as Holder so aptly described it, is challenged you demand a full double blind UN-conducted investigation or go home. What a joke. Wake up and take off the blindfold of nationalism.

  • Abraham Collins

    You mean the ones your hero Eric Holder let walk across the border? Sounds like one hell of a botched false flag operation.

  • Karl Hoff

    You would think after growing up in a gun toting family and watching some of the most shootem up TV shows and movies and before television listen to shows like Gun Smoke on the radio that I would have the desire to own a gun, but I never have. I think one of the first movies was “The Great Train Robbery”. I’m not sure, but I think it is because I detested being bullied and because I was so small as a kid growing up I was a target and I have always seen that a gun allowed a coward to bully someone and more than to be bullied, I recognized that to bully someone was some of the worst human behavior. I now believe that people should have the right to own guns and even would not mind if the changed the 2nd amendment because it states in only one sentence that the militia for the people’s security has a right to bear arms. Thus changing it to state the militia and private citizens also have the right. A number of years back I listen to a radio program about hunting and at that time they said only 13% of the men and 1% of the women still hunt. I think that arguing with someone who is afraid that you are out to take away their guns only make them want them more. It takes a lot of patience to get people to stop doing anything that is harmful. At one time the great white hunters were treated like hero’s. They were replaced with those like bring am back alive, Frank Buck, which my mother met in person, to shooting pictures rather than bullets. I think a fair exchange is I will not criticize those who want to own guns if they don’t criticize me for not wanting them. In time the world will see that they are better protected by living in a world where people choose to not need guns. No one has a right to take someone’s guns a way but themselves and I guess that’s what I did.

  • Dano2

    Don’t. Believe.You.

    Best,

    D

  • Anonymous

    You reap, what you sow..! America is Stuck on Stupid..!