WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today welcomed the release of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he commissioned on U.S. efforts to halt illegal firearms trafficking to Mexico. Representative Engel requested the report in May 2014.                                                                                                          

“With at least 70 percent of firearms recovered at Mexican crime scenes coming from the United States, our Congress has a responsibility to do much more to stop the illegal flow of guns across the U.S.—Mexico border. Unfortunately, House Republicans continue to be much more concerned with loosening already lax gun regulations than protecting citizens in both of our countries from gun violence,” said Rep. Engel.

“GAO’s report found that law enforcement in both the United States and Mexico have been increasingly concerned with the transport of weapons parts from the U.S. to Mexico where they are assembled into finished firearms.  Fortunately, this is an issue that can be easily addressed.  To stop this dangerous trend, I urge the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to use their discretion in defining what constitutes a gun ‘receiver.’ Far too often, unfinished gun receivers are minimally modified to avoid regulation.  Existing law defines ‘receivers’ as firearms and gives ATF discretion in defining what constitutes a receiver.  The transport of firearms parts into Mexico continues to contribute to the dangerous scourge of drug-related violence in the country.

“In response to a GAO report I commissioned on the same topic in 2009, ATF and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put in place a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to better coordinate their joint efforts to stop firearms trafficking.  Unfortunately, GAO found gaps in information sharing and misunderstandings over who does what.  I support GAO’s recommendation that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security more formally monitor implementation of the MOU.”

The report makes several findings, including the following:

  • Of the firearms seized in Mexico and traced from 2009 to 2014, 70 percent originated in the United States.  An additional 13 percent have an undetermined country of origin while the remaining 17 percent are of non-U.S. origin.  According to ATF data, most were purchased legally in gun shops and at gun shows in the United States and then trafficked illegally to Mexico.  Often, so-called “straw purchasers” will illegally purchase firearms at gun shops on behalf of individuals who are prohibited from buying firearms.
  • High caliber firearms—the weapons of choice for drug traffickers—make up half of all firearms seized in Mexico and traced.
  • The transport of weapons parts from the U.S. to Mexico to be assembled into finished firearms is complicating bilateral efforts to combat illegal firearms trafficking as it allows these parts to discretely flow into Mexico with little detection. 
  • ATF’s Implementation of Demand Letter 3—which requires licensed dealers and pawnbrokers in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas to report multiple sales of certain rifles—has made it more difficult for firearms traffickers to acquire long guns.  ATF reported that this information has allowed them to identify arms traffickers in a timelier manner.
  • As ATF and ICE work to stop firearms trafficking from the U.S. to Mexico, gaps in information sharing and continued misunderstandings between the two agencies can be addressed through better monitoring of their existing MOU.