Patriot's Blog

The Border Debates' Missing Argument Part 6

How the U.S. government tackles gun trafficking — and what’s changed under Trump


There is an official government process in place to tackle the gun trafficking. But while critics have continued calling on the government to do more, it’s unclear whether the Trump administration has prioritized the issue.

Under an existing agreement, ATF and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a unit of the Department of Homeland Security that investigates illicit activities, work together to tackle gun trafficking to Mexico and Central America. The agencies’ cooperation is outlined in a memorandum of understanding, first reached in 2009, which established how the agencies should collaborate and share intelligence.

Currently, the two agencies meet monthly “to navigate the complexities associated with illegal international firearms trafficking and to cultivate relationships to improve the working knowledge of agencies,” said Matthew Bourke, a spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The investigations agency also conducts probes and carries out arrests. According to government data, in 2018, HSI opened 1,269 investigations and made 546 arrests that were related to Counter Proliferation Investigations, a program that focuses on weapons trafficking.

Still, in recent years some government agencies have called for more action.

In its 2016 report, GAO issued another recommendation for the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) calling for a revision to the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, a biennial report issued by ONDCP since 2007 outlining a strategy to curb the flow of illicit drugs, associated proceeds, and instruments of violence across the U.S.-Mexico border. The auditing agency recommended including in this document a set of indicators that would better measure efforts to curtail arms trafficking across the border. ONDCP has not revised the strategy since 2016 and has not yet implemented GAO’s recommendation.

“As of February of 2019, the time of our most recent outreach, there was no change in the situation,” said Jenny Grover, GAO analyst.

In March, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., requested an update to the 2016 GAO report that determined that 70 percent of firearms seized in Mexico come from the United States.

“The Trump administration talks tough, but they have turned a blind eye to this ‘iron river’ of guns flowing south. I’ve asked GAO to update its analysis of this firearms trafficking to help inform Congress’s efforts to address this challenge,” Durbin told the PBS NewsHour in a statement.

The need for more and better data on guns flowing south to Latin America from the U.S. cannot be overstated, said Matt Schroeder, a senior analyst at Small Arms Survey. Until the government has a better understanding of the problem, gun trafficking will remain a serious issue.

“Publicly available data on the arms trade — both legal and illegal — is scant,” Schroeder said. “The data that is available is often woefully inadequate for tracking illicit arms flows and identifying the sources of black market weapons.”


This will conclude the sixth part of this blog and will be the final part in the series. I hope you enjoyed the series and learned a few new facts, thank you for reading.