An Update on “Why is the United States backing Mexican drug gangs?”

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Since I published a short article on the drug war in Mexico on Tuesday (and re-published it in a posting below) I’ve received a number of responses and questions related to gun shops on the border and the weapons they sell that end up in the hands of drug cartels in Mexico. I’d like to thank everyone who sent feedback and clarify a few points.

I do incorrectly imply in the article that gun shops on the border sell hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The border gun shops do not legally sell these. However, these type of weapons used by Mexican drug cartels have been seized by customs officlas making their way south through the border. How they are purchased is somewhat unknown, but many of these are making their way to Mexico through the United States.

I received many skeptical emails regarding the number of gunshops along the border. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) estimates that there are about 6,650 Federal Firearms Licensees in this area, and the border is 2,000 mile long, meaning that there are 3.3 gun shops per mile (I said 3 per mile in the article). If we include all the shops in border states (not just near the border), the number rises to 9,161 locations.

Lastly, I received e-mails questioning the term “cop killer,” or “mata policias” in Spanish, which is a term commonly used in Mexico to refer to the FN Five-seveN, a weapon which if loaded with the right bullets can shoot through body armor, vehicle doors, and windows. Other weapons commonly bought on the border and trafficked to Mexico include AK-47s , AR-15 assault rifles, Colt .38 Supers, and Glock 9 millimeters.

This is not new news. The U.S. government recognizes that U.S.-purchased weapons are fueling Mexico’s violence. In fact, ATF acting director Michael Sullivan said last year that investigators have traced 90 to 95 percent of weapons seized in Mexico to the United States. William Hoover, Assistant Director for Field Operations at ATF said in a congressional testimony last year that “It is a major challenge for ATF to adequately identify and disrupt the illegal sources of firearms and ammunition, while participating in the interdiction of shipments firearms and ammunition destined for Mexico.”

What’s impressive is the lackluster response to such a serious problem. About 100 U.S. firearms agents and 35 inspectors patrol the border for gun smugglers, compared to 14,400 Border Patrol agents that patrol northward movements.