Could stricter regulations mean less trafficking? Not necessarily
The availability of military assault weapons in the United States drives demand for American firearms in Mexico. “You can into gun stores in America and buy anything you need to outfit an army,” Rand said. “There’s so much lethal firepower so readily available. That’s the crux of the problem.”
Military assault weapons and ammunition bought in the U.S. can be sold for triple their original price in Mexico, which makes trafficking such a lucrative enterprise, said Zapor, the retired ATF agent.
“The firearm that I’m paying $390 for in Arizona, I’m selling in the Republic of Mexico for $4,000,” he said.
What’s more, informal firearm transactions on the so-called “gray market” — sales that occur on the margins of the legal, regulated gun market — are exceedingly difficult to monitor. That’s because straw buyers often resell the guns they buy online, where it is sometimes possible to purchase guns without a background check. And while some states require a licensed intermediary for private gun sales, others have no regulations on private sales.
The issue could be tackled by eliminating the gray market and requiring all sellers and purchasers to complete their transactions, including online sales, through a licensed dealer, Zapor said.
“The [gun] manufacturers don’t want this because the gray market accounts for millions, multiple millions of dollars in revenue from firearm sales,” Zapor said.
According to a 2017 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 22 percent of people who acquired a gun in the U.S. in the previous two years did so without a background check.
Others pointed to lax regulations at gun shows as another factor driving gun trafficking.
“The exceptions made at gun shows certainly are a weak spot, I would say for the United States and for Mexico,” Wood said. “A lot of those purchases that take place in gun shows, typically take place close to the border. “
The lack of a federal database of gun serial numbers and transactions in the U.S. plays a role as well in stymying efforts to stop trafficking. U.S. gun laws prohibit a national registry, which means that there is no database tracking gun transactions. ATF is not allowed to keep a database of gun owners. (Mexico has a database of gun applications and licenses maintained by the Secretariat of National Defense.)
When ATF wants information on a firearm, the agency “will reach out to the gun store, and then they will rely on the gun story to provide that data,” said Colby Goodman, a firearm expert and former director of Security Assistance, an organization dedicated to making information about U.S. security and defense assistance programs publicly available. “But if the gun store is in on it, you’re not going to get the right information,” he added.
In interviews, several owners of gun stores along the U.S.-Mexico border said they did not think stricter regulations would stop gun trafficking.
Store owners and employees have their own methods for weeding out potential straw buyers, said John Dury, the owner of Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, Texas. Typically potential buyers are asked what they’re planning to use the gun for, and if the buyer seems unsure or lacks knowledge about the gun, the employee can stop the purchase, Dury said.
“I don’t think the problem comes from legitimate stores,” Dury said. “I think that happens more in the stolen gun market than anything. If people know there are so many background checks, they don’t want to put their name in that.”
Mike Davis, the manager of AZ Guns in Arizona, said that an individual can buy a gun in a store in the state of Arizona and “go sell it in the parking lot” without a license.
The National Rifle Association did not have a comment on whether existing gun laws play a role in gun trafficking and straw purchasing. However, in a 2009 statement on the topic, the NRA singled out Mexico’s restrictive gun laws as one of the factors that spurs weapons trafficking.
“Obviously, Mexico has a huge problem with rampant corruption that clearly cannot be blamed on the U.S.,” the NRA said in the statement at the time. “At the same time, Mexico has extremely prohibitive gun laws, yet has far worse crime than the U.S.”
This will conclude the Fifth 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.