RELEASE: How Weak U.S. Gun Laws Contribute to Violent Crime Abroad

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Washington, D.C. — A key pillar of the Trump administration’s domestic security agenda is protecting the United States against the entry of violent crime; however, seldom considered is the role that the U.S. plays in exporting violence to other nations. Today, a new report from the Center for American Progress examines the scope of the problem of U.S.-sourced guns being used to commit violent crimes in other countries, as well as the extent to which weak U.S. gun laws and high rates of gun manufacturing precipitate violence abroad.

Analyzing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the report found that from 2014 to 2016 alone, over 50,000 guns that originated in the United States were recovered as part of criminal investigations across 15 countries in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. And with few legal roadblocks in place to slow the pace of rampant gun trafficking from the United States to nearby countries, the impact has been swift and devastating.

“Guns that were originally purchased in the U.S. are used to commit a crime in nearby countries at least once every 31 minutes,” said Chelsea Parsons, vice president of Guns and Crime Policy at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report. “Gun traffickers are exploiting the same gaps in U.S. gun laws that facilitate illegal domestic gun trafficking in order to traffic guns abroad, and we have a moral obligation to enact common-sense policy solutions to mitigate the export of tools of lethal violence.”

“The Trump administration has made it a point to demonize Mexicans as perpetrators of violence, but that racist policy neglects the fact that hundreds of thousands of guns are smuggled from the U.S. to Mexico each year,” said Eugenio Weigend, associate director of Guns and Crime Policy and co-author of the report. “Mexico is experiencing its highest rate of homicides in the past 20 years, and the percent of homicide committed with a gun jumped from 15 percent in 1997 to 66 percent in 2017. The United States needs to do more to reduce its role in the carnage.”

“It’s our responsibility to take meaningful action to stem the illegal flow of guns across our Southwest border. Addressing this problem shouldn’t be this difficult—many of the needed reforms, such as requiring reporting for all bulk firearm sales, are extremely simple and would in no way affect the ability of law-abiding citizens to buy guns,” said Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA).

The report offers a number of policy recommendations to both stem the flow of crime guns abroad and minimize the U.S. role in arming lethal violence in neighboring countries. Those solutions include:

  • Instituting universal background checks for gun purchases
  • Making gun trafficking and straw purchasing federal crimes
  • Requiring the reporting of multiple sales of long guns
  • Increasing access to international gun trafficking data
  • Rejecting efforts that weaken firearm export oversight

Read the report: “Beyond Our Borders: How Weak U.S. Gun Laws Contribute to Violent Crime Abroad” by Chelsea Parsons and Eugenio Weigend

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Kyle Epstein at kepstein@americanprogress.org or 202.481.8137.