Mexico's American Gun Problem
Speaker 1: 00:00 Mexico is seeing the highest level of homicides in its history. Experts say a vast majority of Mexico's killings are done with us. Guns smuggled south in part one of this two part series KPBS border reporter Gene Guerrero looks at the problem and who it's affecting. Speaker 2: 00:19 Who Do get that. Sanchez is a US permanent resident who lives in San Diego. She brought her son Fed Nando from Mexico when he was 15 and later. He was very hardworking. He like worked and he was very active. He finished school, then worked installing floors and carpets in Chula Vista, but eventually he began to struggle with addiction using crystal meth. Yeah, the hip was kept. I started getting skinny and I wonder what it could be and then he started saying things that didn't make sense. Rehab, it was too expensive in the u s for Sanchez, so she sent him back to Tijuana. We're rehab is more affordable. The day they were going to check him and she says, if a number was shot and killed in Tijuana, no bs. Okay. I don't want vengeance. I don't want vengeance. Yeah. I want more government control over these people. Speaker 2: 01:15 Selling guns to kids. Sanchez can be pretty sure the gun used to kill her son came from the u s t one is police chief medical [inaudible] says nearly all of the guns used to kill people in Mexico are smuggled in from the u s is [inaudible] in Mexico. It's very hard to buy a gun in Mexico. We have a very intensive process before you can buy one. If you guys had that, it would be really helpful. Mexico has only one gun shop. It's controlled by the military in Mexico City. The gun laws for civilians are extremely strict with six months background checks and a federal registry of every person who buys a gun, person to person. Firearm sales are prohibited, but both Mexico and Tijuana or seeing record levels of gun violence with homicides nationwide hitting an all time high of 33,000 last year, president Trump has painted a bleak picture of criminals and drugs pouring into the US from Mexico. But speaking at the National Rifle Association Forum this month, he didn't mention the u s guns pouring into Mexico. In fact, he announced that the US was withdrawing from an international arms agreement aimed at cracking down on illegal weapons trading Speaker 3: 02:34 every day. You stand up for our God given rights without exception, without fail and without apology. Speaker 2: 02:43 What we're seeing more of the polymer pistol [inaudible] yes, is a special agent with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, firearms and explosives or Ati. He says there's been an increase in large caliber weapons being smuggled into Mexico from the US. Speaker 4: 02:59 Those weapons are being used by drug cartel 10 force their, their business, if you will, to go after law enforcement, Mexican authorities and innocent civilians. Speaker 2: 03:10 The SS. There's also been an increase in US gun parts going into Mexico and being assembled there about 70% of weapons seized at crime scenes in Mexico last year that were submitted to us. Authorities were traceable to the u s the s is ATF is trying to combat the situation by going after smugglers in the US. Many are US citizens. Speaker 4: 03:33 There are individuals associated with cartels that reside in the United States. Speaker 2: 03:38 Sanchez who believes your son died due to the lack of control over us guns. So she hopes something is done about the problem. Soon. Now, Matan Army, they kill my son, then they're going to kill another man and it's going to keep happening. They're young. This men are young. The gun fueled violence south of the border has contributed to the increasing number of people seeking asylum in the US. And experts believe that controlling the flow of guns into Mexico would decrease illegal immigration and asylum claims at the u s border. Gene Guerrero, KPBS news Speaker 5: 04:16 joining me is KPBS border reporter Gene Guerrero and Jeanne, welcome. Hey Maureen, let's start where you ended. What do you see as the connection between us guns in Mexico and the number of asylum seekers at the border? So we have actually been seeing an increase of asylum seekers from Mexican states of get it or and mutual icon, the these southern Mexican states. So, even though there's, there's been a lot of talk about the influx from Central America, a lot of the people that we're seeing are coming from southern Mexico and, and it's because of violence that they're seeing. They're largely in fact inflicted with us guns that are being smuggled into Mexico. So Mexico in general is seeing record levels of violence as or as a results of us guns. And you saw the Mexican police chief and various Mexican authorities saying that if the US would simply control it's guns better than a lot of the violence that we see in Mexico with stop and, and people, his reason for fleeing their homes and fleeing these criminal organizations that operate with these us guns would go away and they wouldn't have any reason to come to the United States. Speaker 5: 05:27 Have any of the U s border officials you've spoken with made that connection between us guns in Mexico and the number of asylum seekers? You know, they haven't. I asked us customs and border protection for seizure data to see how many guns they have captured going into Mexico. Cause you do occasionally see USCBP stopping people on their way to Mexico to, to review, um, if they have any, any kind of guidance, ammunitions or et Cetera. But the data that provided actually doesn't distinguish between guns going into the u s and guns going into Mexico. But the Mexican customs data is actually really revealing. Um, it actually showed that at u s Mexico ports of entry, there was a 92% increase last year in the amount of guns being seized going from the US into Mexico. And again, that's, that's illegal. Mexican law prohibits US guns from being smuggled into Mexico, but it's happening. Speaker 5: 06:24 They also see is more than 116,000 bullets. And again, this is, this is a major increase from what we've seen previously. The major way that these guns get into Mexico is by smuggling networks. Yeah. So there's, they use a lot of the same smuggling networks that are used to smuggle drugs into the United States. But you see it, a majority of guns going into Mexico through the ports of entry, just like you see a majority of drugs going into the United States through the ports of entry. It's easier though to get guns into Mexico than it is to get drugs into the United States because while you have these long wait times to get into the United States from Mexico, because of the very heavy customs inspections at the ports, when you're going into Mexico are you can drive into Mexico and most of the time you will not be stopped by anyone. Speaker 5: 07:15 No one will check your vehicle and no one will ask you any questions you can just head on into Mexico with whatever you have in your car. Um, so that is the main route for smuggling weapons into Mexico. And part of how that happens is through the use of Straw purchasers. So someone who doesn't have a criminal record will legally buy a gun in the United States and then they will sell it to someone else. These person to person, firearm sales are legal in states like Arizona, they're, they're not allowed in California, but often you'll see it happened in Arizona and then the s the guns are are brought into California and then smuggled through the San Ysidro port of entry right here. What kinds of weapons are we talking about? So in my interview with ATF, the the U s bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the special agent was saying that they've seen a big increase in large caliber weapons going into Mexico, that that actually represents the majority of the weapons that are going in. Speaker 5: 08:08 So achy 40 sevens, ar 15 they also seek glocks and other pistols. And one interesting thing over the past three years as they've actually seen an increase in gun parts going into Mexico and ATF thinks that's because it's become harder for smugglers to get all of the guns into Mexico because there has been a slight increase in inspections going southbound. So they will bring in, for example, unfinished lower receivers, various parts that they can use and then assemble in Mexico and also parts to maintain existing firearms that they have in Mexico and just keep them up to date. Is there an estimated amount of how much money you s gun dealers are making by selling these weapons that end up in Mexico? I don't have the exact number, but, and I, and I don't know if any studies have actually shown an exact number or percentage, but the University of San Diego did do a study recently that suggests that these gun retailers actually rely on the black market in Mexico for their profits. Speaker 5: 09:09 And that without the black market in Mexico, a lot of these gun stores would literally just shut down. They wouldn't be able to exist. So I spoke to David Shirk of, of justice in Mexico, and he says that, that that is why gun lobbyists often fight things like having a federal registry to keep track of US guns. Um, and, and various other steps that could monitor the tracking of these weapons because of the fact that these retailers depend on, on the black market in Mexico. This is the first in a two part report on us, guns and Mexico that you're doing gene, what will you be focusing on in part two? So I'm going to be looking specifically at steps that are being taken to confront this problem. And so one of the main things, um, the, the head of Mexican customs gave KPBS and exclusive interview talking about these major upgrades that they're going to be working on at ports of entry to install new surveillance technologies and, and really try to crackdown on this problem of smuggling US weapons into Mexico. And I've been speaking with KPBS border reporter, Gene Guerrero. Jean, thank you. Thank you.