Mexican Gun Traffickers Easily Obtain Military-Style Weapons from U.S. Civilian Gun Market, New Analysis of Federal Criminal Court Records Confirms

For Release: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nearly Two-Thirds of Guns Obtained by Traffickers in Cases Studied Were Semiautomatic Assault Weapons, Armor-Piercing Handguns, or 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles

Washington, D.C.–U.S. court records from southwestern states clearly show that illegal gun traffickers involved in smuggling firearms to Mexico seek semiautomatic assault weapons, armor-piercing handguns, and 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles from U.S. gun shops according to a new report released today by the Violence Policy Center (VPC). For its investigation, the VPC obtained records filed in 21 federal firearms smuggling prosecutions in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Texas between February 2006 and February 2009. For a copy of the VPC investigation, Indicted: Types of Firearms and Methods of Gun Trafficking from the United States to Mexico as Revealed in U.S. Court Documents, please see

“The documents we examined make absolutely clear that Mexican gun traffickers are seeking out military-style weapons easily obtained on the U.S. civilian gun market,” said VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand, the study’s author. “Many of these guns are imported assault rifles and armor-piercing handguns, underscoring the urgent need for the Obama administration to use its executive powers to strictly enforce existing restrictions on the import of such non-sporting weapons and then begin working with Congress to enact an effective federal assault weapons ban.”

In addition to detailed analysis of the more than 500 firearms listed in the smuggling cases reviewed, the report contains excerpts from records that detail the methods by which traffickers exploit weak federal laws in the U.S. to buy guns for Mexican criminals. Among other findings in the report:

  • Traffickers seek out semiautomatic assault weapons (42 percent of guns named), armor-piercing handguns (18 percent), and 50 caliber anti-armor sniper rifles (two percent).
  • More than 90 percent of the 226 rifles named could be identified as semiautomatic assault rifles, primarily AK-47 and AR-15 variants.
  • More than one-third of the guns obtained by traffickers were made by foreign manufacturers.
  • At least 70,000 rounds of ammunition were directly involved in the cases.

Rand stated that the federal court records thoroughly refute National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s recent false claim that the Mexican cartels do not “trifle with paperwork at U.S. gun stores.”

“The NRA has received a free ride with its undocumented assertions,” Rand said. “Now, for the first time, the American people can see detailed information on the types of military-style firearms illegal traffickers are buying in the United States and shipping to Mexican criminals. This is merely a snapshot of the kind of detailed information about tens of thousands of smuggled guns that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has in its files but no longer releases to the public or our elected representatives on Capitol Hill.”





About the Violence Policy Center
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