Abstract: Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the largest providers of illicit drugs to the United States. They have also grown to rely on advanced, high-power weaponry and to use their nearly military-grade armament to maintain control over smuggling corridors, and local drug production areas. Cartels are also linked to nearly 40,000 deaths over the last five years, many of which were committed with guns originating in the United States. The United States is likely the most prevalent source of weapons for the increasingly violent cartels. The U.S. government estimates that nearly ninety percent of all weapons used in the drug war originate in the United States. An analysis of current gun connol policy in the United States and Mexico suggests this is likely the case; Mexico has particularly sttict gun connol laws in contrast to the relatively lenient gun connol regulation in the United States. Both counnies have implemented domestic policies aimed at reducing the southward flow of arms into Mexico, yet so far have had little success. This Note argues that arms ttafficking has been facilitated by current U.S. gun control policy, and it will likely continue without a foundational shift in either U.S. or international policy.
It's a terrible problem. They have to do something about it.
-The Honorable Robert Gottsfield1
The rhetoric of the "War on Drugs" has been familiar to many U.S. citizens since the days of President Richard M. Nixon.2 That language has taken on a more literal meaning in recent years due to the in- creased threat posed by Mexican drug cartels and distribution net- works.3 The Mexican government now faces an opponent that out- spends it in the fight, while utilizing a governmental task force that has been plagued with murders from and defections to the cartels them- selves.4 Mexico's governmental efforts to reduce drug trafficking and associated gun crime have been met with a violent response from the cartels, including executions and mutilations, as well as a drug-related murder rate that doubled between 2007 and 2008.5
The cartels are fueled by U.S. demand for drugs; many use their profits to purchase high-powered firearms from states along the border, where they can legally obtain weapons that are prohibited for sale in Mexico.6 In an effort to combat the threat presented by the Mexican cartels, the United States offered Mexico an aid package that provides funding for military, police, and joint intelligence operations.7 Yet by increasing support to the Mexican military, the United States has, in essence, armed both sides of the conflict.8
Federal gun control policies in the United States, and state-level policies in the southwestern states, are a major factor in the increasing violence against both Mexican and U.S. citizens-that includes both in- creased murders and kidnappings domestically as well as over 40,000 murders in Mexico since 2006.9 Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) purchase firearms in the United States, where there is greater access to weapons and more lenient regulation on sales.10 Moreover, many of the relevant purchases are made in Arizona and Texas, where the emphasis on the individual right to own firearms is manifested in relatively lenient gun control laws.11 These two states, along with Cali- fornia, host the top twelve dealers that are allegedly arming the cartels.12
Arms trafficking is unlikely to decrease without increased coopera- tion between the United States and Mexico.13 Although regulations re- stricting trafficking are likely constitutional, cultural factors in the southwestern states make domestic reform, tightening restrictions on firearms sales, unlikely.14 One commentator suggested that lax regula- tions in Texas and Arizona "reflect both the libertarian traditions of the West and the anxious vigilance of firearms enthusiasts toward their Se- cond Amendment rights."15 State gun control laws impose few restric- tions on firearms sales, making prosecution of those accused of trans- acting with Mexican cartels more difficult. …