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Mexican cartels look north for arms

200 Mexican Federal Police officers arrive to reinforce anti-cartel operations. Law enforcement are struggling to cope with the highly organized and well-armed cartels.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: It's now official: We've all got the right to own a gun.

The Supreme Court settled the matter today for the first time in the country's history. The Second Amendment to the Constitution gives individual Americans the right to keep and bear arms and service in a state militia that the amendment mentions is not a requirement.

The U.S. is estimated to have the world's highest civilian gun ownership rate, and it seems we've got more than enough firearms to go around.

As magazine writer James Verini reports, that's something Mexico's drug cartels know only too well. His latest article "Arming the Drug Wars" appears in Portfolio magazine.

Mr. Verini, thanks for joining us.

James Verini: Thanks for having me.

Moon: You say in your article that there are two drug wars going on. What do you mean by that?

Verini: There's the war between the drug trafficking organizations, the main ones in Mexico now being the Sinaloa Cartel, the Gulf Cartel and the Tijuana Cartel. They've been fighting each other for some time over smuggling routes to the Untied States and over control of product and control of local police forces. Then there's the war between the government and the drug trafficking organizations, which also has been going on on and off for decades, but since President Calderon came into office has intensified intensely.

Moon: And how is that part of the war going?

Verini: That's a tricky question. President Calderon is taking on the drug trafficking organizations in a way that no Mexican president has perviously even though many have pledged to and he's made a lot of headway in terms of arresting major traffickers, rooting out corruption in his own government. But along with all of the progress has come a lot of violence: many thousands of deaths, a graduation into major military hardware being used by the DTOs -- rockets, grenade launchers, sniper rifles that are used by American Special Forces -- really, really nasty stuff.

Moon: Where do they get all that weaponry? Where are they getting their guns?

Verini: Sadly, it comes almost entirely from the United States.

Moon: So, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau tracks all of this. Do they have any idea who's profiting on this side of the border?

Verini: Absolutely. They actually know an incredible amount about who's selling these guns. The Mexican ambassador recently estimated that 2,000 guns a day go over the border, so if that's even half true, there's a lot of money being spread around and it's going primarily to gun shows, to some gun stores and pawn brokers and then a good deal of it to private dealers, the sort of person who I describe in the article, people who sell guns sort of under the table. There are tens of thousands of these dealers in the Southwest and indeed, across the country.

Moon: Can you give me some idea of how difficult it might be to smuggle guns across the border? You talk about the border being porous; I guess that works in both directions?

Verini: It works in both directions. It makes smuggling drugs north and smuggling guns south easier of course.

Moon: So how does it get through? Can you give me some specific example?

Verini: There are any number of ways they can be brought over the border, but the most efficient and the cleverest is by infiltrating commercial freight trucks: leasing cargo containers that have false doors and hidden compartments in them or bribing drivers or warehouse managers or indeed, in some instances, owning the freight companies themselves or having some kind of stake in the freight companies or the forwarding companies.

Moon: So in researching your article, did you come across any possible solutions?

Verini: Frankly, not to sound pedantic, but the solution is to change gun policy in the United States and to allow the ATF to better do its job. It'll never happen, but if we were to shut down what is known as the gun show loophole, immediately you would see the gun trafficking minimize significantly.

Moon: James Verini is a contributing editor at Portfolio magazine. Thanks for joining us.

Verini: Thanks so much.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.
Log in to post5 Comments

I have to agree with Mr. Hamilton, I live in Texas, the scene of the border drug conflict, so you would think that if a significant number of firearms were heading south into Mexico, there would be a local shortage and/or price increases (supply-demand?) I have seen nor heard of any evidence supporting these assertions.

In addition all purchases I have seen at gun shows here in TX were via FFL holders and they followed the law exactly. I have also witnessed several turn away those who were suspecious.

While this does not mean that there are not illegal gun sales occuring (there are illegal drug sales occuring everywhere and no shortage of undocumented workers) I beleive you should be more skeptical when interviewing folks with clear agendas (CEOs included) and have to call the accuracy of these numbers into question.

Just because people want to believe it doesn't make it true, right Santa.

The previous comment steals most of my thunder. We can close all the loopholes in the world and they will still get their guns. If it is not from us it will be from crooked Russians or Chavez. Just like drugs, if their is money to be made they will be available. Bad journalism does not make a story make and sensationalizing the issue is not the way to stop illegal traffic in arms anywhere.

I think the story stuck to the facts pretty well. The title clearly states the intent. Well done.

I was really disappointed by this story. It makes me question the show's integrity. It used the affirmation of our right to defend ourselves and turned it into a piece which could have easily been written by the Brady Campaign.

The author's article is very poor journalism. It would have been nice to see actual empirical data being used instead of pages of quotes or figures from numerous anti-gun sources.

If 2,000 guns/day are going to Mexico, that's between 10 - 25% of U.S. manufacturing capacity (depending on the estimates). The gunshow loophole mentioned is a myth in that any attending dealers require paperwork just as they would in a retail store. The firearms industry is regulated more heavily than almost any industry in the U.S. For ATF to claim they don't know where guns are going is ludicrous.

Please try to be more objective.

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