What the U.S. is doing to fight this now
ATF has four offices in Mexico, staffed by 11 special agents and 14 local staff that provide investigative support, according to Engelbert, the ATF spokesperson. The agency works with federal, state and municipal law enforcement authorities in Mexico, including the office of Mexico’s attorney general and the federal police, as well as the Mexican army, navy and customs agencies. ATF in Mexico assists local law enforcement with gun tracing and provides investigative support as well.
The agency’s personnel in Mexico initiate gun tracing operations when Mexican law enforcement request information on guns seized in homicides and other crime scenes in the country. The percentage of traces depends directly on the amount of weapons seized and reported by Mexican authorities.
And the amount of illegally trafficked weapons in Mexico is likely higher than official data suggests, since some weapons go unreported, and other weapons are stolen from the scene of the crime, said Bernard Zapor, a retired ATF agent who worked at the agency for 25 years. In some cases, Mexican authorities come across a firearm or a cache of firearms and don’t record the find or officially turn them over in a way that shows up in government statistics. “They might not ever report them. They might keep them,” Zapor said.
Data sharing, or the lack thereof, is another lingering challenge facing ATF efforts to stop gun smuggling in Mexico. In 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto, who left office last year, initiated a policy known as Ventanilla Unica, which limited access to ATF’s gun tracing database to certain officials in the Mexican attorney general’s office. In its 2016 report on gun trafficking, the Government Accountability Office noted that U.S. officials and some Mexican officials expressed concern that limiting access to the tracing database would complicate efforts for bilateral cooperation on gun trafficking.
This limited access to ATF’s tracing database under Peña Nieto continues to be a problem.
“ATF recommends more access to eTrace by allowing accounts for other federal, state and municipal law enforcement stakeholders,” an ATF spokesperson said in an email. “Mexico believes more accounts will lead to more immediate submissions of traces and therefore quicker results for generating leads in firearms trafficking investigations.”
This will conclude the fourth part of this blog and will be broken in a series. Look forward to next week were we continue the conversation that is often missed, thank you for reading.