Our Deadliest Export

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in News, Opinion

Published on March 17, 2009 with 7 Comments

Weapons seized in Mexico include 18 US made M-16 assault rifles,
at least one equipped with an M-203 40mm grenade launcher,
several M-4 carbines, 17 handguns of various calibers,
over 200 magazines for different weapons,
and more than 8,000 rounds of ammunition,
assault vests and other military accessories.
Photo: Northeast Intelligence Network

By Ralph E. Stone

March 18, 2009

It is estimated that the Mexican “war on drugs” has resulted in more than 8,000 deaths in the last three years, with more than 1,000 so far in 2009 alone. Those murdered include judges, police, witnesses, journalists, and innocent citizens. There is a growing perception among Mexicans and here in the United States that Mexico is losing the war against these well-armed drug cartels. The violence is already spilling over into the U.S., causing alarm among politicians in Washington and citizens in states bordering Mexico. In fact, the cartels have actually expanded production into northern California federal and state parklands.

The U.S. is finally focusing on the source of the weapons used in these killings, 90 percent of which — about 2,000 per day — were smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. and then used in 95 percent of the killings there.

For the period October 1, 2004 to September 30, 2007, Weapons found discarded at shootings in Mexico or confiscated from the drug cartels were traced to 15 states. Texas sellers were the source of 2,085 weapons. California was runner-up with 1,006. Texas and California together are the source of more than the combined total of weapons from the other 13 states. An untold number of guns couldn’t be traced or are still in the hands of the drug cartels.

Under Mexico’s strict regulations, it is against the law to own or sell armor-piercing penetrating assault rifles and semiautomatic pistols. But they are legally available in sporting goods stores and gun shows in the U.S. where straw men buy them and then smuggle them into Mexico. And weapons are easy to purchase in the U.S. Now, U.S. law only requires that dealers run an instant FBI background check to make sure the potential buyer has no felony convictions, is a U.S. citizen, and then requires the buyer to sign a form attesting that the weapon is not for someone else.

The Mexican drug cartels are not only well-armed but flush with cash. Ninety percent of all cocaine that ends up in the U.S. moves through Mexico, resulting in an estimated $10 billion in profit. The illicit drugs flow north and the weapons flow south.

We have heard the old canard that “people, not guns, kill people.” Actually, it is people with guns that kill the most people. Obviously, the U.S. and Mexico must place more emphasis on catching gunrunners and tightening and enforcing the laws regarding the sale and purchase of weapons in the U.S. It won’t be easy. Efforts to control gun sales will undoubtedly be challenged in light of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision — District of Columbia v. Heller — finding a Constitutional right for individuals to “keep and bear arms.” Fortunately, the National Rifle Association has had little success so far overturning existing gun control laws, but it is probably poised to challenge any new gun control laws proposed by Congress or the White House.

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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  1. Comment on comments: Obviously, the number of weapons smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico is based on educated guesses and probably some uneducated guesses. The 2000 per day figure is often used by Congresspersons, BATF, the news media, and the Mexican government. The drug cartels do not need to go elsewhere for weapons when they are so easily available in the U.S. through straw men at gun retailers and gun shows, under the table, and stolen from military, national guard, police armories, and gun dealers. Providing accurate numbers for illicit drugs or smuggled weapons are not easy to come by. After all, we can’t audit drug cartel books or check bills of lading. We can only make educated estimates. But let’s not get caught up in numbers. It is clear that a large percentage of drugs come north from or through Mexico and a large number of weapons are smuggled from the U.S. into Mexico and used to kill. And is it not ironic in this discussion that the U.S. is the world’s largest arms exporter?

  2. This story is rife with misinformation. Really.

    2000 per day? That’s 730,000 per year, which is entirely unsustainable. I don’t know where Stone got that number but I hope he used plenty of tissue paper to wipe it off before using it.

    Look at the facts. Remington was the top domestic rifle producer in 2005 and they made only 302,272 rifles of ALL KINDS. That includes bolt action, pump action and semi-automatic (3-5 shot) hunting rifles. And Remington, until recently, did not even market an AR-15 style rifle. Marlin Arms, makers of lever and bolt action rifles only made 205,479 rifles, none of them “assault weapons”.

    This begs the question of who is making over half a million “assault rifles” to feed this hungry market? It sure isn’t American companies.

    California was #2 in supplying “assault weapons” to Mexico? How can that be? The state banned AW’s by name and when manufacturers complied with the law by removing most of the “evil” features to create new & different models, the legislature called it “cheating”. Then they enacted a NEW ban that prohibits the sale of 98% of AW’s and limits exiting guns to 10-shots.

    So these cartels are certainly not buying AR-15’s off dealer shelves. That’s because most distributors refuse to sell AR-15’s, AK-type and SKS-type rifles to California because the laws are confusing.

    In Mexico, last I looked, semiauto pistols were legal as long as they did not use “military ammunition”. This is why pistols chambered for the .380 ACP and .38 Super cartridge are so popular there. Both 9mm and .45 Auto are illegal.

    The author bemoans “lax” U.S. laws on the sales of firearms. Yet, I posit that one look at the facts indicates that the last 40 years of progressively restrictive gun laws has utterly failed to bring down crime. It’s measurable. It’s fact.

    And one last thing. Drug cartels have enough money to “throw away” a $130,000 airplane in a ditched landing at sea; enough money to build several very basic submarines to smuggle their crap here… and they still make enough profit to pay thugs, hitmen and bodyguards and continue business. Will they be worried about a $5,000, $20,000 fine for illegal possession of a gun? It’s a cost of doing business for them.

    The only ways to attack the drug dealers is to kill their market or kill their supply of the drug. You can figure out the tactics from there.

  3. In J.W Harrott v. Kings County, the California Supreme Court ruled that judges cannot declare firearms illegal under the state’s Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA), thus creating a loophole in the Act. The court ruled that a semiautomatic rifle is legal if it is not explicitly designated illegal under 1991 amendments to the act. Thus, all the weapons manufacturer need do is change the name of the weapon or a few of its characteristics. Despite purporting to make California a safer place, it is questionable whether the AWCA has accomplished anything more than making state legislators feel good about themselves. There are many firearms that are legal in California that are functionally identical to prohibited weapons. By the way, the federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004. Regardless, no law is truly effective unless it is enforced.

  4. Well, something is wrong here…California is the number two exporter of weapons like M16’s and M203 Grenade launchers? California had the first ban on “assualt weapons” and still has one in place. Your sources must be wrong; then again, you didn’t cite any. How would a new ban on banned weapons solve anything?

  5. Ending the WAR ON DRUGS will pull the profits and cash flow out from under the “illicit” drug producers, transporters, & distributors. The WAR ON BOOZE was a grand failure and from it we got the mafia — prohibition doesn’t work — legalizing, regulating, and taxing booze resulted in far less violent crime (and alcohol abuse).

    Ever wonder why the Drug Cartels aren’t funding efforts (and candidates supporting) drug legalization? They have so much wealth that they could easily buy the passage of laws legalizing “drugs” in nearly all countries — but they don’t because they know what the economic consequences for them will be.

    Law enforcement doesn’t want legalization because they are addicted to the billions of dollars spent on the WAR ON DRUGS.

  6. The real truth – it is governments with guns (ruling disarmed serfs) that kill the most people.

    The Human Cost of “Gun Control” Ideas:

    170,000,000 — That’s the number of civilians that have been murdered by their own governments in the 20th century alone. 170,000,000 men, women, and children who were defenseless to protect themselves. 170,000,000 victims of gun control.

  7. The way to stop the flow of guns into Mexico is to legalize marijuana in the US so that we can grow our own without having to rely on criminal imports of marijuana from Mexico.

    After NAFTA, the fabric of rural Mexican society was torn up by economic pressures that eliminated millenia old systems of subsistance farming without replacing it with anything.

    This led to increased migration to the cities, and against a backdrop of go-go capitalism touted as desirable by the neoliberal economic model which has destroyed the real economy wherever its touched.

    More jobless rural migrants in the cities means more people desperate for subsistence and a ready supply of fodder for the drug industry.

    Add in a half century of US sponsored brutality in Central America, from which they are just recovering, and we have our own regional mujahadeen.

    Chickens will keep coming home to roost so long as we keep marijuana illegal.