NPR’s Steve Inskeep speaks with Ioan Grillo about the illegal flow of weapons from the United States to Mexico. The majority of all guns used in Mexico, where gun control laws are very strict, are purchased in the United States
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The recent mass shooting in Texas took place near the US border, and that border with Mexico was part of the conversation that followed. On MORNING EDITION, state legislator Travis Clardy said Texans need their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in part because of where they live.
(SOUND CLIP FROM NPR ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TRAVIS CLARDY: We have a porous southern border, since the entire war on drugs. Men, equipment, drugs and weapons can enter this country in many ways.
INSKEEP: Rep. Clardy expresses a widely held opinion. In Uvalde, resident Pat Jackowski also cited the border as one of his reasons for owning guns.
(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PAT JACKOWSKI: We have a huge problem with the border – people coming from all over the world. And even the police will tell you, don’t leave unarmed; protect yourself.
INSKEEP: Other residents have made similar remarks to other media outlets, and their concern predates the Uvalde shooting. Gov. Greg Abbott said earlier this spring he wanted to stem the flow of drugs, illegal immigrants and guns into Texas. So we followed. Is there a problem with weapons crossing the border? Ioan Grillo is a journalist based in Mexico City.
IOAN GRILLO: That’s a bit of a misrepresentation about drugs and weapons coming from Mexico. It really is a two-way street. And you have a huge amount of drugs coming from Mexico into the United States, but then a huge amount of weapons going from the United States into Mexico. And the numbers on both sides are staggering. You know, you have these large amounts of heroin and now fentanyl, crystal meth and cocaine crossing the border from Mexico into the United States and, tragically, record deaths in the United States related to that. But you have this huge amount of firearms going from the United States to Mexico, estimates are over 200,000 firearms every year trafficked from the United States to Mexico – over 10 years, over 2 million weapons. And these weapons used by extremely violent groups, cartels, which have achieved a humanitarian catastrophe.
INSKEEP: Is it legal to export so many weapons from the United States to Mexico?
GRILLO: Most of this huge traffic of firearms from the United States to Mexico is happening illegally. They are driven and it is quite easy to get to Mexico by car. One of the people I profiled drove from Chihuahua to Dallas. He would buy about 12 to 15 AR-15s, and he would store them in refrigerators, in stoves and take them to Mexico – that way, paying duty on them. Another person I profiled was actually using a blanket. He was a US citizen who laid cables on both sides of the border and used the cover of this cable laying network and a government ID to travel to Mexico with gun parts.
INSKEEP: Is it the same cartels that ship drugs north?
GRID: Absolutely. The same criminal networks that funnel massive quantities of drugs into the United States also take those weapons south. The trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in New York, they detailed this large amount of arms trafficking that El Chapo’s network was involved in and how they moved thousands of guns. What was interesting is that in this trial they convicted El Chapo of drug trafficking; they did not convict him of arms trafficking. But at the trial, they talked about it. And it touches on various things, one of them being that it’s much easier to convict someone for drug trafficking than it is to convict someone for arms trafficking. There is no federal gun trafficking law, which is something quite surprising that I discovered while researching this topic.
INSKEEP: I think you’re telling me that the gun trade in America doesn’t just add to the violence in Latin America; it also hurts the United States because it helps fuel and fuel this drug trade. Is that what you’re telling me?
GRID: Absolutely. I think it’s true that the legal gun trade in the United States also fuels drug trafficking, but it also fuels – more than that, it fuels violence in Mexico. It fuels violence in Central America. And you see those same weapons coming down in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, where there have been very – very high levels of violence in recent years. Huge numbers of people fled this and sought asylum in the United States. So from the American point of view as well, you are creating a more unstable neighborhood. You create a large number of refugees fleeing to the United States in this same cycle. So you have this issue of firearms at the heart of American policy, and then this issue of refugees, asylum seekers at the border, and these two issues are actually very intertwined.
INSKEEP: So guns can’t defend me against refugees; weapons cause refugees.
GRILLO: Exactly, exactly. The kind of tragedy, really, is that guns are flowing into these Latin American countries, which have weaker institutions and are unable to deal with this kind of violence, whereas the United States is a kind of a paradox in that they have large amounts of guns, a large drug market, but they also have this very aggressive, sometimes overly aggressive law enforcement system that manages to create a counterweight to that.
INSKEEP: Doesn’t Mexico have pretty strict gun laws?
GRILLO: Mexico has pretty strict gun laws. He actually has the right to bear arms in the Mexican constitution. But to do this, there is only one store that sells them legally in all of Mexico, run by the military. You go there, and then you have to show seven types of ID, including a letter from your employer and a clean criminal record. And the cartels, the gangsters, they don’t use that way to get guns because they can get them so much easier by buying them in the United States.
INSKEEP: Does this somehow indicate the futility of gun control – Mexico has these strict restrictions, and criminals circumvent them?
GRILLO: I think it’s a mistake to say that gun control will never work. If you look at, say, Europe, they’ve managed to have far fewer guns on the streets. I think something that holds back the American debate is this kind of idea of a pair on both sides. It’s either, you know, for guns or against guns. And it’s like – I think it’s just trying to come up with a regulation that stops guns from getting to the most violent criminals. Now, that obviously isn’t working right now when over 200,000 guns a year arrive in Mexico and go to some of the most violent criminals on the planet. This obviously doesn’t work. And I think there’s not even really a basic attempt to make it work.
INSKEEP: We spoke with Ioan Grillo, Mexico City-based journalist and author of the book “Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs And Cartels.” Thanks a lot.
GRILLO: Thanks Steve.
NPR transcripts are created in peak time by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative recording of NPR’s programming is the audio recording.